Open the Advanced Search

Scottish Lady Fern

Athyrium distentifolium flexile

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
For more information please download the BSBI Code of Conduct PDF document.


Plant Profile

Aspleniaceae (Spleenwort)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Gardens, mountains, riverbanks, riversides, rocky places, waterside, woodland.
Flowerless. Ferns do not have flowers.
Spores ripen in July and August.
2-pinnate, light yellowish-green leaves (fronds). Similar in appearance to Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) but shorter-stalked.
Other Names:
Flexile Lady Fern, Newman's Lady Fern.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Athyrium distentifolium flexile is a cultivar of the lady fern species (Athyrium distentifolium), and it is known for its delicate appearance and graceful fronds. The cultivar name "flexile" refers to the drooping, arching habit of the fronds.

This cultivar typically grows to about the same size as the species, reaching up to 60cm tall, with light green, finely cut and delicate fronds that give a graceful and lacy appearance. The stipes (stems) are also reddish-brown and are covered in light brown scales.

It is similar to the species in terms of cultural needs, it prefers moist, humus-rich soils, and partial to full shade. It is tolerant of some drought and can handle some sun exposure, but the fronds may turn brown and dry out in prolonged dry spells or hot sun.

This fern is a popular ornamental plant, grown for its delicate appearance and its drooping, arching habit, and it is also widely available commercially. Like the species, it 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 Scottish Lady Fern (Athyrium distentifolium flexile) is a graceful and delicate fern that is native to Scotland, but can also be found throughout the British Isles and other parts of Europe. Its scientific name comes from the Greek words athyros, meaning "chaff", and distentifolium, meaning "extended leaves", which describe the plant's thin, feathery fronds that resemble delicate lace.

The Scottish Lady Fern is a deciduous fern, which means that it loses its leaves in the winter and produces new ones in the spring. It typically grows to a height of around 60-90 cm (24-36 inches) and has a spread of around 45-60 cm (18-24 inches). The fronds are finely divided and a fresh bright green color, with a slightly glossy texture. The fern produces spores on the underside of its fronds, which are released in the late summer or early autumn.

One of the most striking features of the Scottish Lady Fern is its flexibility. Its fronds are able to bend and sway in the breeze, giving the fern a graceful, flowing appearance. This flexibility is due to the fern's relatively thin stems, which are able to support the weight of the fronds without breaking.

The Scottish Lady Fern prefers moist, shady environments, and is often found growing in woodland areas or along stream banks. It is a relatively easy plant to care for, and can be grown in a range of soil types, as long as they are well-draining. The fern also responds well to regular watering, especially during dry spells, and benefits from the occasional application of a balanced fertilizer.

In addition to its aesthetic qualities, the Scottish Lady Fern has a number of practical uses. The plant has been traditionally used in herbal medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive problems, respiratory conditions, and skin irritations. The fern also has insecticidal properties, and has been used as a natural insect repellent in some cultures.

One of the interesting aspects of the Scottish Lady Fern is its role in folklore and mythology. In some cultures, the fern is associated with magic and mysticism, and is believed to possess mystical powers. In Scotland, for example, it was believed that if you picked a sprig of the Scottish Lady Fern and held it in your hand, you would become invisible.

Another interesting aspect of the Scottish Lady Fern is its role in the ecosystem. As a native plant, it plays an important role in supporting the local wildlife, providing shelter and food for a variety of insects, birds, and other creatures. The fern's spores are also an important food source for a number of fungi, which play a vital role in breaking down organic matter in the soil.

In recent years, the Scottish Lady Fern has become a popular choice for gardeners looking to create a natural and woodland-inspired garden. Its delicate fronds and flexible stems make it a great choice for adding texture and movement to a garden, and its natural resilience makes it an easy plant to care for.

Despite its popularity, however, the Scottish Lady Fern is also facing some threats, primarily from habitat loss and invasive species. As with all native plants, it's important to take steps to protect and preserve the Scottish Lady Fern and its natural habitat, to ensure that future generations can enjoy its beauty and benefits.

The Scottish Lady Fern has a long and rich history in human culture. In many parts of the world, ferns have been associated with fertility, prosperity, and good luck. In China, for example, the fern is considered a symbol of wealth and longevity, and is often included in traditional medicine and cuisine.

In Europe, the Scottish Lady Fern has also been used in traditional medicine for centuries. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that the fern had the power to cure a range of ailments, including kidney and liver disease, fever, and respiratory problems. While many of these claims are not supported by modern science, the fern continues to be used in herbal remedies and natural health products to this day.

Another interesting aspect of the Scottish Lady Fern is its role in horticulture. The fern's delicate fronds and flexible stems make it a popular choice for landscaping and garden design, and it is often used in naturalistic planting schemes, as well as in rock gardens and woodland areas. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in using native plants like the Scottish Lady Fern in garden design, as part of a broader effort to promote biodiversity and ecological sustainability.

In addition to its aesthetic and cultural significance, the Scottish Lady Fern also has important ecological benefits. As a native plant, it plays an important role in supporting local biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem health. By providing habitat and food for a range of insects and other creatures, the fern helps to maintain the delicate balance of the local ecosystem, ensuring the continued survival of a wide range of species.

In conclusion, the Scottish Lady Fern is a fascinating and versatile plant that offers a wide range of benefits and uses, from its aesthetic and cultural significance to its practical applications in herbal medicine and garden design. Whether you're a gardener, a nature lover, or simply interested in the rich history and cultural significance of plants, the Scottish Lady Fern is definitely a plant worth exploring.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

Click to open an Interactive Map