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Lemon-scented Fern

Oreopteris limbosperma

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Plant Profile

Thelypteridaceae (Marsh Fern)
Also in this family:
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Ditches, grassland, heathland, mountains, riversides, rocky places, waterside, woodland.
Without flowers. Ferns have spores instead of flowers.
The spores blacken when ripe. They ripen from July to September. No spore cases.
A yellowish-green, 1-pinnate, perennial fern. The fronds taper at both ends. Not toothed.
The fronds smell mildly of lemon when crushed between the fingers.
Other Names:
Creeping Mountain Fern, European Mountain Fern, Mountain Buckler Fern, Mountain Fern, Mountain Wood Fern, Northern Mountain Fern, Queen's Veil Maiden Fern, Sweet Mountain Fern.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Oreopteris limbosperma is a species of fern known as "creeping mountain fern" or "northern mountain-fern". It's native to north-eastern and eastern North America and occurs in Canada, Alaska and in the northern United States, such as the Adirondacks and New England.

This fern has evergreen to semi-evergreen, bipinnate fronds, typically 20–60 cm (8–24 inches) long, with a woody creeping rhizome. The rhizome of this species is also unique, as it is covered in dense scales. This fern tends to grow in moist and shady sites, such as on rocky slopes, ledges and damp woods, and at high elevations.

It's considered as a hardy species, it can tolerate cold temperatures and it can grow in wide range of soil types. This fern is not widely cultivated, and it is not commonly found in the trade. However, it could make an interesting choice for a shade garden or rock garden, if you have the right conditions and would be a good choice for native plant gardens.


The Lemon-scented Fern, scientifically known as Oreopteris limbosperma, is a small fern that is native to North America. This plant is unique in many ways and is a favorite of gardeners, hikers, and nature enthusiasts alike. In this blog, we will explore the characteristics, growth, care, and uses of the Lemon-scented Fern.

Characteristics of the Lemon-scented Fern

The Lemon-scented Fern gets its name from the delightful citrus scent that emanates from the foliage when it is crushed. The plant has a clumping growth habit and reaches a height of about 12-18 inches. The fronds are narrow, lance-shaped, and light green in color, giving the plant an airy and delicate appearance. The fronds are also finely divided into lobes, which create a lace-like pattern. These characteristics make the Lemon-scented Fern an attractive addition to any garden.

Growth and Care

The Lemon-scented Fern prefers to grow in moist, well-draining soil, in partial to full shade. It can be grown in a variety of soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay soils. The plant can tolerate occasional periods of drought but will thrive with regular watering. This fern is a low-maintenance plant, and it does not require fertilizer or pruning, making it an excellent choice for novice gardeners.

Uses of the Lemon-scented Fern

The Lemon-scented Fern is primarily grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and natural landscapes. It is an excellent plant for shady areas or as an underplanting in a woodland garden. The plant can also be used as a groundcover in areas with moist soil. Due to its pleasant lemon scent, the fronds of the Lemon-scented Fern can be used as a natural air freshener, especially in small spaces such as bathrooms or closets.

In addition to its ornamental and air freshening uses, the Lemon-scented Fern has some medicinal properties. It is said to have antibacterial and antifungal properties and is used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments such as coughs, colds, and fevers.


The Lemon-scented Fern, Oreopteris limbosperma, is a delightful and unique plant that can add a touch of beauty to any garden or natural landscape. With its lace-like fronds, airy appearance, and delightful lemon scent, it is sure to be a favorite of both gardeners and nature enthusiasts alike. The plant's low-maintenance requirements and multiple uses, including air freshening and medicinal properties, make it an excellent choice for anyone looking for an easy-to-care-for and versatile plant.

More Information

The Lemon-scented Fern is a member of the wood fern family, Dryopteridaceae, and is native to North America, growing in wooded areas from Alaska to Newfoundland, south to Florida, and west to Arizona. It is commonly found in damp woods, on rocky slopes, and in shaded areas along streams and rivers.

The plant is also known by other common names, including Lemon Fern, Lemon Back Fern, and Mountain Fern. The scientific name Oreopteris limbosperma comes from the Greek words "oreo" meaning "mountain" and "pteris" meaning "fern," as this plant is often found in mountainous regions.

Propagation of the Lemon-scented Fern can be done by spores or division of the plant. The spores are small and found on the underside of the fronds in a capsule called a sporangium. To propagate through spores, they need to be collected and planted in sterile soil in a warm, humid environment until they mature into small ferns. To propagate through division, the clumps can be carefully separated and replanted.

In addition to its ornamental and medicinal uses, the Lemon-scented Fern is also a valuable plant for wildlife. It provides cover and shelter for small animals and insects and is an important food source for deer and other grazing animals.

The Lemon-scented Fern, with its unique lemon fragrance, delicate fronds, and multiple uses, is a plant that is both beautiful and practical. It is a low-maintenance plant that is perfect for gardeners of all levels, and its air freshening and medicinal properties make it a plant that is not only pleasing to the eye but also beneficial to our health.

One interesting fact about the Lemon-scented Fern is that it is a "resurrection" plant. During periods of drought or extreme temperatures, the fronds of the plant will dry up and turn brown, appearing dead. However, when moisture returns, the plant will "resurrect," and the fronds will regain their green color and vitality. This unique adaptation allows the plant to survive in harsh environments where other plants may not.

Another fascinating aspect of the Lemon-scented Fern is its relationship with mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the plant, providing it with nutrients in exchange for sugars produced by the plant. This relationship is important for the health and growth of the plant, and it is also beneficial for the fungi and other microorganisms in the soil.

The Lemon-scented Fern is also a popular plant in traditional Native American medicine. The Cherokee used the plant as a tea to treat respiratory infections, and the Potawatomi used it to treat colds and coughs. The plant was also used as a poultice to treat skin conditions and as a general tonic.

Finally, it is worth noting that while the Lemon-scented Fern is not considered a threatened species, it is important to be mindful of its habitat and to avoid over-harvesting. When collecting plants or spores, it is important to do so responsibly and to only take what is needed, leaving enough for the plant to continue to thrive and reproduce in the wild.

In summary, the Lemon-scented Fern is a unique and fascinating plant with many interesting characteristics and uses. Whether grown as an ornamental plant, used for its medicinal properties, or appreciated for its role in the ecosystem, this plant is a valuable and beautiful addition to any natural environment.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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