Saturday, April 1, 2023

Netted chain ferns

Netted chain fern: sterile fronds.

The netted chain fern (Woodwardia areolata) is native to eastern North America including most of Florida. It spreads via rhizomes and acts as a ground cover in partially shaded areas with some moisture. 

Leaves or fronds are dimorphic with the sterile leaves being flat and relatively broad for a fern, while the fertile fronds (those bearing the spores in structures called sori. (Sorus is the singular.)) are taller and have very little green leafy area. For this fern, sori are oblong and are arranged in neat lines, this is the characteristic that gives the chain ferns their name. In North Florida and in more northerly areas in its range, the green sterile fronds die back in the winter, while the fertile fronds persist through the winter.

Because the fertile and sterile fronds are so different (frond dimorphism), some botanists have separated this species into its own genus: the monotypic genus Lorinseria  where it would be known as (Lorinseria areolata). The Atlas of Florida Plants, my go-to naming authority, uses the original name given to it by Carl Linnaeus so long ago: Here's the link to that profile.

Fertile fronds begin forming in the fall. They will persist through the winter, while the sterile fronds will die back. The sori are lined up in a chain-like formation on the back side of the fertile fronds, which is why these are called chain ferns.

These ferns make a great ground cover in transition areas next to wooded spaces. The sterile fronds are usually less than a foot tall unless they are in a constantly moist location, like the edge of a pond. They grow very well in the partial shade at the bases of the trees. In this photo, the 20 feet of ferns from sprinkler head mounted on the white pole to the edge of the mowed area used to be lawn and the sprinkler head at this location was a flush-to-the-ground, pop-up head so that it could be mowed over.
(See my "Hand of the Gardener" post for more details.)

Netted chain ferns as edging for lawns

Netted chain ferns and other ferns create a good border for the edge of a lawn.

The netted chain ferns spread into the lawn area. Fern being relocated from the lawn.

The fronds of these ferns arch over the edges of the mowed area, so my husband runs the mower along that edge under the arching fronds. And because the fronds shade the area, the grass and other plants don't grow as well as in uncovered edges where there is more light. Also, since these ferns spread via rhizomes, they sneak out into the mowed area, so on my once every three years trip around the edges of the lawn, I'll either extend the ferns further out to reduce the mowed area or I'll transplant the wayward ferns to areas that need more coverage. They transplant well. 

Netted chain ferns in rain gardens

Netted chain fern makes a good rain garden plant because of its coverage and sturdy root system.

These ferns are a good addition to rain gardens because they can tolerate flooding as well as some dryness. The fact that they go dormant in the winter helps them survive Florida's seven-month dry season. They will fill in between larger plants so there is more water absorption.

These netted chain ferns mixed with some
goldenrods next to a wooded area.

One note about our netted chain ferns is that they have planted themselves. Yes, I've transplanted some when they've volunteered in unwanted places or when I want to start a new population somewhere, but I've not had to purchase any of them. And in fact, I've potted some up to be sold or raffled off at our native plant society chapter events. I think every gardener in Central or North Florida will find plenty of places to plant these easy-to-grow ferns.

To find native plant vendors with this plant in stock, click here.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt


  1. Will these grow in Palm Beach County?

  2. Here is its profile showing that its native range includes Palm Beach County: