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Alpine Lady Fern

Athyrium distentifolium

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Plant Profile

Athyriaceae (Lady Ferns)
Also in this family:
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
1 metre tall
Gardens, mountains, riversides, rocky places, waterside, woodland.
Ferns do not have flowers.
Similar to Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) but Lady Fern has curved spore cases rather than round spore cases. The spores mature in July and August.
Usually a short fern, no more than 1 foot tall but sometimes taller.
Other Names:
Lady Fern.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Athyrium distentifolium, also known as lady fern, is a species of fern that is native to North America.

This fern is known for its graceful and delicate appearance, it forms large, delicate-looking fronds that can reach up to 3 ft tall and 3 ft wide. The fronds are light green in color, and they are divided into many finely cut leaflets, giving the plant a lacy appearance. The stipes (stems) are reddish-brown and are covered in light brown scales.

It prefer moist, humus-rich soils and partial to full shade and is commonly found in woodlands, along streams and rivers. It can handle some drought and can handle some sun exposure, but the fronds may turn brown and dry out in prolonged dry spell or hot sun.

Lady fern is a popular ornamental plant, grown for its delicate appearance, tolerance of shade and moist soils, and it is widely available commercially. This plant is not considered as threatened and is easy to grow. It can be grown in gardens, along borders, or as a ground cover. This fern is hardy in USDA zones 3-9, which makes it a suitable choice for many regions across North America.


The Alpine Lady Fern, also known as Athyrium distentifolium, is a species of fern that is native to the alpine regions of Europe and Asia. With its delicate fronds and compact growth habit, this fern is a popular choice among gardeners and plant enthusiasts who are looking for a unique addition to their collection.


The Alpine Lady Fern is a small to medium-sized fern that typically grows to a height of about 12-18 inches. It has long, slender fronds that are light green in color and finely divided. The fronds are slightly arching and grow in a circular pattern, creating a compact and bushy appearance. This fern is deciduous, meaning that it sheds its fronds in the winter months and re-grows them in the spring.

Growing Conditions

The Alpine Lady Fern is a hardy plant that can grow in a range of conditions, but it prefers a cool, moist environment. It thrives in partial shade or dappled sunlight and needs well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. This fern is tolerant of acidic soil and can even grow in sandy or rocky areas.


Alpine Lady Ferns can be propagated through spores or division. Spores are produced on the underside of the fronds and can be collected and sown in a sterile growing medium. Division involves separating the plant into smaller sections and replanting them in new locations. This fern is relatively slow-growing, so it may take some time for new plants to reach maturity.


The Alpine Lady Fern is primarily grown for its ornamental value. It is a popular choice for rock gardens, borders, and woodland gardens, and it can be planted in groups or as a single specimen. This fern also works well in containers and can be used to add texture and interest to indoor or outdoor spaces.

In addition to its aesthetic appeal, the Alpine Lady Fern has some practical uses as well. It is used in traditional medicine to treat a range of ailments, including coughs, colds, and kidney problems. The leaves of this fern can also be used to make a tea that is said to have a calming effect.

In conclusion, the Alpine Lady Fern is a beautiful and versatile plant that is well-suited to a range of growing conditions. Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a beginner, this fern is a great choice for adding interest and texture to your outdoor or indoor spaces.


One of the unique features of the Alpine Lady Fern is its adaptability to a range of climates. This fern is naturally found in alpine regions with cool temperatures and high levels of moisture, but it can also be grown in areas with more moderate climates. However, it may not tolerate hot and dry conditions well, so it's important to provide it with enough water and protection from direct sunlight.

When it comes to care and maintenance, the Alpine Lady Fern is relatively low-maintenance. It needs regular watering to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged, and occasional fertilization can help promote healthy growth. It's also important to keep the plant free of debris and dead fronds to prevent disease and pests.

One thing to keep in mind when growing the Alpine Lady Fern is that it is sensitive to chemicals and pollutants in the air and soil. If you live in an urban area or near a major road, it may be more difficult to grow this fern successfully. However, if you have access to clean air and water, this fern can be a beautiful and rewarding addition to your garden.

In terms of its appearance, the Alpine Lady Fern has a delicate and airy quality that makes it an excellent choice for softening the edges of hardscape elements like rocks, walls, and paths. Its compact size also makes it a good choice for small gardens or containers. In the fall, the fronds turn yellow before dying back, adding a touch of seasonal interest to the garden.

The Alpine Lady Fern is a beautiful and adaptable plant that is well-suited to a range of growing conditions. Whether you are looking for a unique addition to your rock garden, woodland garden, or indoor collection, this fern is sure to impress with its delicate fronds and elegant form.

The Alpine Lady Fern has a number of interesting features that set it apart from other ferns. For example, its fronds are finely divided and have a feathery appearance that creates a sense of movement and softness in the garden. This texture can be complemented by the use of other plants with contrasting leaf shapes, such as broad-leaved hostas or spiky grasses.

In terms of its natural habitat, the Alpine Lady Fern is often found growing in crevices or on rocky outcrops, where it can take advantage of the moisture that seeps through the rocks. This adaptability to difficult growing conditions makes it a good choice for xeriscaping or other types of water-wise landscaping.

In terms of companion plants, the Alpine Lady Fern pairs well with a range of shade-loving perennials and shrubs. Some good choices include bleeding hearts, astilbes, heucheras, and hellebores. The soft, feathery texture of the fern can help to balance the bold shapes and colors of these plants, creating a harmonious and balanced composition.

Another interesting feature of the Alpine Lady Fern is its ability to hybridize with other ferns. This has led to the development of a number of interesting cultivars, such as 'Branford Beauty', which has dark purple stems and bright green fronds. Other cultivars may have variegated or ruffled fronds, or a more upright growth habit.

In conclusion, the Alpine Lady Fern is a versatile and beautiful plant that is well-suited to a range of growing conditions. Whether you are looking for a unique addition to your garden or a low-maintenance houseplant, this fern is sure to impress with its delicate fronds and adaptability to a range of growing conditions. With proper care and attention, the Alpine Lady Fern can thrive in a variety of settings, from shady borders to container gardens to alpine rockeries.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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