Polystichum acrostichoides 

Christmas fern    Perennial of the Month-- December 2015 Perry caricature

 (pronunciation at link)  (poly-STITCH-um  ak-row-stitch-OY-dees)

Common name: Christmas fern    

Family:   Dryopteridaceae, Wood ferns

Height x width: 18-24" x 18-24"

Growth rate, habit: moderate, partially upright to horizontal

Foliage: evergreen, lustrous dark green, lanceolate, once-pinnate, pinnae are bristly serrated with a characeristic "ear-like" lobe pointing upwards; dimorphic: fertile fronds with sori on upper third of pinnae; sterile fronds longer and narrower; fronds from central crown

Flowers:  none, instead spore cases or "sori", tan scattered to nearly covering lower surface of fertile fronds as noted above

Hardiness: USDA zones 3-8 (average minimum -30F to -40F)

Soil:  most, well-drained and acidic preferred, doesn't grow well in too wet nor richly fertile soils

Light: part shade to shade, tolerates sun if adequate moisture

Pests and problems: none serious 

Landscape habit, uses:  woodlands, massed, shade beds for contrast with other perennials, shade rock garden, groundcover, erosion control; combines well with rue anemone, foam flowers, variegated Solomon's seal, trillium, purple-leaved carpet bugle, golden-leaved hostas, Sprite or Amethyst astilbe, White Nancy lamium

Other interest: very common native plant to eastern North America, often used in Christmas decorating--hence the common name; resistant to deer and drought; genus name from Greek polys meaning many and stix meaning row, referring to the regular rows of sori in some species

Other culture:  low maintenance

Propagation:  spring division, spores

Sources:  many online and local specialty nurseries

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