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Hay-scented Buckler Fern

Dryopteris aemula

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Plant Profile

Dryopteridaceae (Wood Fern)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Hedgerows, rocky places, woodland.
Pale orangish-brown scales on the dark purple-brown stalks.
Reproduces by means of spores. The spores ripen from August to October.
The overwintering leaves are tripinnate. Broadly triangular. The secondary leaflets are crisped. Within the British Isles, the Hay-scented Buckler Fern is the most common in western Scotland and western Wales.
Hay-scented when dried out.
Other Names:
Golden-backed Wood Fern, Golden-scaled Woodfern, Hay-scented Fern.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Dryopteris aemula, also known as the golden-backed wood fern or golden-scaled woodfern, is a species of fern that is native to North America, specifically found in the Eastern United States.

This fern is typically an evergreen fern, which means it remains green throughout the year and it is usually grows to be about one to two feet tall, with a slightly wider spread. The fronds of D. aemula are compound and feathery, with a long central stem that has many leaflets or pinnae, which are further divided into smaller segments or pinnules. The leaves are dark green on the upper surface and are bright golden yellow on the underside of the pinnae, giving the fern it common name "golden-backed wood fern" or "golden-scaled woodfern".

Dryopteris aemula prefers moist, well-drained soils and partial to full shade, and it is commonly found in woodlands, along streams and rivers, and in rocky or sandy areas. It is considered an important food source for several species of wildlife. It is also a popular ornamental plant due to its attractive foliage, and it can be grown in gardens, along borders, or as a ground cover. This fern is hardy in USDA zones 4-8, and can handle sun exposure in cooler climates and it is tolerant to some degree of drought.


The Hay-scented Buckler Fern, also known by its scientific name, Dryopteris aemula, is a beautiful fern species native to North America. It belongs to the Dryopteridaceae family and is known for its fragrant, hay-like scent that it emits when touched or brushed.

Appearance and Habitat

The Hay-scented Buckler Fern is a deciduous fern, which means it loses its leaves in the fall and regrows them in the spring. Its fronds, or leaves, grow up to three feet long and are deeply lobed, giving them a delicate, lacy appearance. The fronds are a bright green color and have a slightly glossy texture.

This fern species can be found growing in a variety of habitats, including moist woodlands, rocky slopes, and along streams and rivers. It prefers acidic soil and partial to full shade, making it an excellent option for gardeners looking to add some greenery to shady areas of their yard.


The Hay-scented Buckler Fern has several practical uses, particularly in landscaping and gardening. It is commonly used in naturalized settings, rock gardens, and as groundcover in shady areas. It is also an excellent plant to use for erosion control on slopes or along riverbanks.

Beyond its practical uses, the Hay-scented Buckler Fern is also used for its aesthetic qualities. Its delicate, lacy fronds add a touch of elegance and beauty to any garden or natural setting. Additionally, the hay-like scent that it emits when touched or brushed adds an extra sensory element to any outdoor space.


The Hay-scented Buckler Fern is relatively easy to grow and care for. It prefers moist, well-draining soil and partial to full shade. It is important to note that this fern species can be invasive if not contained. It spreads via rhizomes, so it is best to plant it in a contained area or to use a barrier to prevent it from spreading.

To propagate the Hay-scented Buckler Fern, simply divide the rhizomes in the spring or fall and replant them in their desired location. This fern species is also relatively disease and pest-resistant, making it an excellent option for low-maintenance gardens.

Benefits and Drawbacks

In addition to its practical and aesthetic uses, the Hay-scented Buckler Fern has several benefits and drawbacks to consider.


  • Provides excellent ground cover in shady areas
  • Can help prevent erosion on slopes or along riverbanks
  • Is relatively easy to grow and care for
  • Is disease and pest-resistant
  • Adds a unique sensory element to outdoor spaces with its hay-like scent


  • Can be invasive if not contained
  • May not be suitable for small gardens or areas with limited space
  • May require frequent pruning to prevent it from taking over the area
  • May not tolerate drought or extreme temperatures well

It is important to consider these factors when deciding whether to include the Hay-scented Buckler Fern in your garden or landscaping plans.


While the Hay-scented Buckler Fern is not currently classified as an endangered species, it is still important to practice responsible gardening and landscaping practices to help preserve its natural habitats. This includes avoiding the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides, and avoiding planting it in areas where it could potentially become invasive and outcompete other native plant species.

Final Thoughts

The Hay-scented Buckler Fern is a beautiful and versatile fern species that has a lot to offer in terms of practical uses and aesthetic appeal. With its delicate fronds and unique hay-like scent, it is sure to add a touch of elegance and beauty to any outdoor space.