Ostrich Ferns: How To Grow Shuttlecock ferns (Matteuccia Struthiopteris)

Ostrich ferns are used as ornamental garden plants. These ferns resemble the feathers of an ostrich bird and look very attractive.

If your garden has a shady and damp area, you can plant them there. These plants don’t require much attention if they are grown outdoors.

Related post: 23 Types Of Ferns To Grow Indoors or Outdoors

What Is Ostrich Fern?

Ostrich ferns are deciduous ferns and belong to the family Onocleaceae. This fern is also known as fiddlehead fern or shuttlecock fern.

The fronds of this fern are dimorphic, and the beautiful greenish sterile fronds stand upright.

The color and the shape of the leaves make the ostrich ferns even more attractive. 

Matteuccia Struthiopteris Ostrich fern can be three to six feet tall if it is properly established.

Eating raw ostrich fern can cause nonlethal side effects and gastrointestinal symptoms [1].

Another study showed that the phenolic compounds in this plant are higher than other vegetables and fruits [2].

Fronds Types of Ostrich Ferns

Matteuccia Struthiopteris Ostrich fern has two types of fronds.

Sterile Fronds

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These fronds of Ostrich ferns emerge during the spring and stay alongside the fertile fronds, which emerged in the previous year.

Sterile leaves are large and bright-colored leaves, and during the fall, they turn into bright golden colors.

These fronds are also used for medicinal purposes, like treating back pain.

Fertile Fronds

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Fertile leaves come out from the center of this fern. Ostrich fern develops spores via these fronds.

These fertile leaves are shorter and a darker green than the sterile ones. Like many ferns, they produce the sporangia beneath the leaves.

The leaves start wilting in the summer after releasing their spores in the early spring, and they die by the early fall, which is relatively faster than most ferns.

General Information of Ostrich Fern

  • Scientific/Botanical name: Matteuccia Struthiopteris
  • Common name: Ostrich fern, Shuttlecock fern, fiddlehead fern
  • Sun exposure: Shady
  • Soil type: Moist to wet clay
  • pH: Slightly acidic to neutral
  • Hardiness zone: 3-7 (USDA zones)
  • Toxicity: Slightly toxic
  • Native regions: North America, Eastern Asia, Europe

Ostrich Fern Care

Light Requirements

Ostrich fern prefers growing in full shade.

If your garden receives full sun, you will have to transfer the plant to a shady spot because full sun exposure is responsible for burning the beautiful leaves.

This plant likes to thrive in cooler climates. If your area is warmer, then place the fern in part shade. You will see them grow happily.


Ostrich fern requires heavy clay soil as this soil has a better water holding capacity than other types.

Therefore, this soil remains moist for a more extended period, which is ideal for growing these plants.

The pH should be around 5 to 6.5, representing an acidic to neutral range.

These plants can prevent erosion. So, if your place is susceptible to erosion, you can plant this fern.

Water Requirements

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Watering is essential for this plant. Make a watering schedule based on the soil type, humidity level, and temperature.

If the soil is clayey, then you do not have to water it too frequently. Wait until the topsoil becomes dry.

Also, if the temperature is high, then you should water it to maintain the humidity level.

The leaves may become dormant without an adequate moisture level.


These plants like denser environments as they are native to tropical regions that have high humidity.

It would help if you misted the plants with spray bottles to maintain a higher humidity level.

Alternatively, you can use a humidifier if the fern is located indoors.

If you keep your ostrich fern indoors, you can keep them in the bathroom or other high humidity areas of the house.

Fertilizer Requirements

Fiddlehead fern is not like the heavy feeders. If the soil is rich in organic content, then you do not have to worry about fertilizers.

Otherwise, you may fertilize them during the spring. Liquid or water-soluble fertilizers will work fine.

This particular shrub fertilizer is a good choice. It not only can feed your ostrich ferns but also feed your other landscaping plants.

Plus, it will deter most insects from invading your plants.

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Pruning and Propagation

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This fern can grow too aggressively and reach mature size if they get favorable conditions.

They can fill the entire garden quickly if not pruned.

Light pruning can keep their growth in control. Remove the dead or awkward leaves if you notice any.

These plants are mainly spread by extending their underground rhizomes.

It would be best if you controlled these rhizomes to check their aggressive growth.

During the early spring, you should divide the plants in a shallow hole and let the newer plants emerge.


Are Ostrich ferns an invasive Plant?

Yes. Ostrich ferns are very invasive and can fill the entire garden within a year.

Are Ostrich Ferns toxic to humans?

Ostrich ferns are edible fern that can cause several nonlethal problems if consumed raw or half-cooked.

Do I need to repot Ostrich Ferns?

Ostrich ferns are an outdoor species. Therefore, we suggest you plant them in your garden instead of repotting them.

These beautiful plants are straightforward to care for as they grow outdoor.

If they receive favorable conditions for their growth, you do not have to worry about feeding them.

Even if the garden fails to meet their demands, you can grow them by supplying adequate moisture, light, and humidity.


[1] Dhir, S.B. Fiddlehead fern poisoning: A case report. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, 31(2): 226-229

[2] John, M.D. et al. 2011. The unique fatty acid and antioxidant composition of östrich fern (Mátteuccia struthiopteris) fiddleheads. Canadian Journal of Plant Science, 91(5): 919

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