Onoclea, Sensitive Fern, Bead Fern

Onoclea sensibilis

Family: Onocleaceae
Genus: Onoclea (on-oh-KLEE-uh) (Info)
Species: sensibilis (sen-si-BIL-iss) (Info)
View this plant in a garden



Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Sun to Partial Shade


Grown for foliage


Foliage Color:

Unknown - Tell us


18-24 in. (45-60 cm)

24-36 in. (60-90 cm)


9-12 in. (22-30 cm)


USDA Zone 3a: to -39.9 C (-40 F)

USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 C (-35 F)

USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 C (-30 F)

USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 C (-25 F)

USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 C (-20 F)

USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 C (-15 F)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)

Where to Grow:

Unknown - Tell us


Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested

Bloom Color:


Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Size:

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Time:


Other details:

Unknown - Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

Patent Information:


Propagation Methods:

By dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets)

Seed Collecting:

N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Morrilton, Arkansas

East Canaan, Connecticut

Demorest, Georgia

Chicago, Illinois

Machesney Park, Illinois

Newburgh, Indiana

Oakland City, Indiana

Plymouth, Indiana

Austin, Kentucky

Benton, Kentucky

New Orleans, Louisiana

Brookeville, Maryland

Columbia, Maryland

Crofton, Maryland

Millersville, Maryland

Silver Spring, Maryland

Bridgewater, Massachusetts

Halifax, Massachusetts

Marlborough, Massachusetts

Millbury, Massachusetts

Detroit, Michigan

Pinconning, Michigan

Isle, Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota(2 reports)

Piedmont, Missouri

Potosi, Missouri

Saint Louis, Missouri

Exeter, New Hampshire

Tilton, New Hampshire

Frenchtown, New Jersey

Jersey City, New Jersey

Maplewood, New Jersey

Moorestown, New Jersey

Neptune, New Jersey

Princeton Junction, New Jersey

West Orange, New Jersey

Buffalo, New York

Cicero, New York

East Hampton, New York

Ithaca, New York

Jefferson, New York

Manorville, New York

New York City, New York

West Kill, New York

Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Raleigh, North Carolina

Winston Salem, North Carolina

Bay Village, Ohio

Cincinnati, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio

Glouster, Ohio

Warren, Ohio

Williamsburg, Ohio

Downingtown, Pennsylvania

Kintnersville, Pennsylvania

Mountain Top, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania(2 reports)

Wynnewood, Pennsylvania

Hope Valley, Rhode Island

Conway, South Carolina

Christiana, Tennessee

Morrison, Tennessee

Pocahontas, Tennessee

Houston, Texas

Broadway, Virginia

Leesburg, Virginia

Lexington, Virginia

Bellevue, Washington

Augusta, Wisconsin

Ellsworth, Wisconsin

show all

Gardeners' Notes:


On Oct 21, 2017, DustyMudder from Plymouth, IN wrote:

Our sensitive fern was planted by birds. It is in a shady area that needed a hardy plant. Have noticed that the hostas next to it are not doing well since the newcomer, but I like the fern better.

Would like to know how to get the fern to spread more. Do I cut away a portion & replant? It doesn't seem to want to go very far, but is huge and beautiful where it is.

Is this plant not compatible with hostas? The spot where the hostas used to grow is kind of barren. If the fern can spread I'd like it very much.

Thank you!


On Aug 1, 2017, Cairnz from Bay Village, OH wrote:

I dug some of these out of our weedy grass last year. It's growing nicely in a garden that gets *very* wet in winter and spring. Thanks to other folks' comments I'm going to transplant more outside of the garden where we can't drain the water due to a huge tree's roots. I will be happy if the fern will be happy where grass is not. If someone near Bay Village wants some I will share.


On Oct 19, 2015, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:

A good native fern for wild areas. Tolerates full sun in wet soils. Spreads aggressively by a thick shallow rhizome. I don't put it in cultivated borders because of its aggressive spreading, but it can make a useful groundcover at woodland edges and other wilder parts of the garden. It can spread 6-12" per year.

Puts out new fronds all season, so it stays fresh and even tolerates an occasional mow because of this habit. Transplants easily in spring, summer, or early fall---just take a 6-12" piece of rhizome, cut off the leaves, and bury it just below the surface. The common name refers to the leaves' sensitivity to frost.


On Sep 2, 2015, wendymadre from Petersburg, VA wrote:

A friend gave me some starts of the sensitive fern perhaps twelve years ago, and at first, I didn't think that any had survived. It showed up again, and has spread so thickly that I am going to have to thin it out in order to save my hostas and Solomon's seal. It is a very attractive fern, both the sterile and non-sterile fronds.


On Feb 3, 2014, Rickwebb from Downingtown, PA wrote:

Native to much of North America and Asia, this fern gets its common name from its sensitivity to frosts, turning brown right away after experiencing frost. It is a fast spreading groundcover of bright green, coarse-textured fronds that are simply pinnate, not doubly pinnate as the typical fern. The fertile fronds bearing the spores are not leafy, but are brown stalks that bear clusters of bead-like structures on top. I've seen some wild colonies in the woods of French Creek State Park in southeast Pennsylvania.


On May 24, 2007, jg48650 from Pinconning, MI (Zone 6a) wrote:

We dug up a few of these ferns from my grandparent's yard, and planted them under a pine tree in our front yard last year. This year, they popped up in mid-May. I really like this fern. To me, it is so nice because it has such a different pattern than other ferns.


On Apr 10, 2007, Cretaceous from El Sobrante, CA (Zone 9b) wrote:

Native to the central and eastern parts of the United States (except for the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico).


On Mar 7, 2006, Malus2006 from Coon Rapids, MN (Zone 4a) wrote:

This fern can be grown both wet and in a regular garden. I have it mixed with other ferns in a moist sandy soil that is a bit of a south slope in shade. It also grow into a wet non draining container. It tend to develops long shallow rhizomes and then grows from one edge, like iris but much quicker. This can result into its popping up all over the place. The name Sensitve Fern comes from books that said it is sensitive to frosts but I can't really see much of a difference compare to other ferns.


On Dec 2, 2004, CatskillKarma from West Kill, NY wrote:

This occurs naturally by springs in our meadow. It is robust enough to compete effectively with colonies of mint and raspberries and withstand regular trampling by deer. It is quite handsome to me, but my mother always called it "ragweed fern" and thought it looked like ragweed : ). I also use the dried fertile fronds in winter arrangements, but the infertile greenery wilts when picked--perhaps thats why its called "sensitive" fern. Our colonies have wet feet all summer but thrive in bright sun.


On Dec 1, 2004, lmelling from Ithaca, NY (Zone 5b) wrote:

This very pretty fern travels by underground root. Colonies will spring up in shady locations or full sun, but if continually cut down will eventually die off where cut and travel onward as long as they have abundant moisture.

This fern is wonderful in a woodland setting or at the perimeter of a field, but it does have an invasive nature and once in your garden, will travel and pop up all over - creating a nuisance. We have colonies of these that started in our hillside garden years ago, and when pulled, cut or generally weeded out, have traveled down now to the rocks at the base of the garden. If I dig down in the rocks slightly, I can find the long rootstock that keeps this traveler going. I almost hate to pull them as they are a very pretty fern.

Frond... read more


On Nov 30, 2004, melody from Benton, KY (Zone 7a) wrote:

One of the nicest wild ferns in this area. It grows happily even in full sun if it has enough water, and large stands of them can be seen along roadside ditches.

I've transplanted this fern from the wild with great success, but one of my biggest surprises was the first one I ever relocated. It was a tiny little thing, only 3 or 4 inches tall....needless to say, it got a new home before the summer was through.

I like the fruit stalks with the spores for flower arrangements too. They have a lovely cinnamon color when they are mature.


On Jun 1, 2004, Linnea from Tilton, NH (Zone 4a) wrote:

This plant is comfortable and frequent enough up here in New England to leave its natural boggy habitat and grow happily in the woods.

I use the spore-bearing frond in dried flower arrangements.


On Nov 15, 2003, dogbane from New Orleans, LA (Zone 9a) wrote:

This is a common fern in the pine savannahs of Louisiana and Mississippi. It's really quite elegant, both in the wild and in my garden.


On Oct 13, 2003, Toxicodendron from Piedmont, MO (Zone 6a) wrote:

This is a native fern here in Missouri, although not very commonly seen. It needs consistently moist soil to look good, but the rhizomes can withstand dry spells and will make new foliage when the rain returns. It does well in boggy places. I put some in a moist flower bed and just dug out buckets of it this fall. It makes runners all through other plants, so I recommend that you put it in a natural setting, not in a formal bed. It has a soft green color in the shade, more yellowish in full sun. It reaches heights of 30 inches with adequate moisture. The spores are located on separate, fertile fronds that appear in late summer and fall. I have seen a few plants that have come from spores here. The foliage is rather coarse, not fine like other ferns. The best use of this plant that I have... read more