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Toxic parts

Although we have found no reports of toxicity for this species, a number of ferns contain carcinogens so some caution is advisable[1]. Many ferns also contain thiaminase, an enzyme that robs the body of its vitamin B complex. In small quantities this enzyme will do no harm to people eating an adequate diet that is rich in vitamin B, though large quantities can cause severe health problems. The enzyme is destroyed by heat or thorough drying, so cooking the plant will remove the thiaminase[2].

Edible uses


The young uncurled leaves, often called 'fiddleheads', are used as a vegetable or eaten raw[[3][4][5]. Remove the brown scales and then steam the leaves in very little water[6]. The young shoots have been sold as delicacies in Asian markets[6]. Root - cooked[7][8][4][5]. A famine food, it is only used in times of scarcity[6].


Material uses

A decoction of the plant has been used as a hair wash to help prevent baldness[9]. This species has a freely-running rootstock and makes an effective ground cover plant[1][10]. Although it is deciduous its decomposing ferns make an effective weed suppressing mulch[1]. Plants should be spaced about 1 metre apart each way[11].

Unknown part

Medicinal uses(Warning!)

Sensitive fern has not been much used medicinally. However, one native North American Indian tribe did employ it quite widely to treat various women's complaints[9].

An infusion of the root has been used to treat the pain following childbirth[9]. A decoction of the roots has been used to treat fertility in women, to give strength after childbirth, to start the menses, and to treat swellings, cramps and a sore abdomen[9]. An infusion of the whole plant, or just the root, has been applied externally to full breasts where the milk will not flow[9].

A poultice of the plant is used in treating deep cuts[9].


Ecosystem niche/layer

Soil surface

Ecological Functions

Ground cover


Nothing listed.


Nothing listed.


Spores - best sown as soon as they are ripe on the surface of a humus-rich sterilized soil. Keep the compost moist, preferably by putting a plastic bag over the pot. Pot on small clumps of plantlets as soon as they are large enough to handle and keep them in humid conditions until they are well established. Do not plant outside until the ferns are at least 2 years old. Division of underground rhizomes, October to March.

Practical Plants is currently lacking information on propagation instructions of Onoclea sensibilis. Help us fill in the blanks! Edit this page to add your knowledge.


Prefers a moist light soil in partial shade[12]. Requires a damp humus-rich site in partial shade with preferably only 2 - 3 hours of sun daily[1]. Plants require an abundance of water at the roots all year round[13] and they grow well in a bog or woodland garden, or on the water's edge where they may grow out over the water[1]. Requires a pH in the range 5 - 6.5[1]. Plants can colonize most situations that are not too dry and are sheltered from harsh winds[1].

A very hardy plant, the rootstock can tolerate temperatures down to about -30°c[1]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[10]. A very ornamental[13] and easily grown fern, spreading quite vigorously by means of a slender far-creeping rhizome when it is established[12]. It can become invasive in suitable conditions[1].

The fronds die quickly with the first autumn frosts[12], which is why the plant has gained its common name of the sensitive fern[1].


Problems, pests & diseases

Associations & Interactions

There are no interactions listed for Onoclea sensibilis. Do you know of an interaction that should be listed here? edit this page to add it.

Polycultures & Guilds

There are no polycultures listed which include Onoclea sensibilis.




None listed.


None listed.

Full Data

This table shows all the data stored for this plant.

Binomial name
Onoclea sensibilis
Imported References
Edible uses
Medicinal uses
Material uses & Functions
Edible uses
None listed.
Material uses
None listed.
Medicinal uses
None listed.
Functions & Nature
Provides forage for
Provides shelter for
Hardiness Zone
Heat Zone
partial sun
permanent shade
Soil PH
Soil Texture
Soil Water Retention
Environmental Tolerances
    Native Climate Zones
    None listed.
    Adapted Climate Zones
    None listed.
    Native Geographical Range
    None listed.
    Native Environment
    None listed.
    Ecosystem Niche
    Root Zone Tendancy
    None listed.
    Deciduous or Evergreen
    Herbaceous or Woody
    Life Cycle
    Growth Rate
    Mature Size
    Flower Colour
    Flower Type


    1. ? Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992. MacMillan Press ISBN 0-333-47494-5 (1992-00-00)
    2. ? Schofield. J. J. Discovering Wild Plants - Alaska, W. Canada and the Northwest. ()
    3. ? 3.03.1 McPherson. A. and S. Wild Food Plants of Indiana. Indiana University Press ISBN 0-253-28925-4 (1977-00-00)
    4. ? Kunkel. G. Plants for Human Consumption. Koeltz Scientific Books ISBN 3874292169 (1984-00-00)
    5. ? Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications ISBN 0-9628087-0-9 (1990-00-00)
    6. ? Weiner. M. A. Earth Medicine, Earth Food. Ballantine Books ISBN 0-449-90589-6 (1980-00-00)
    7. ? 7.07.1 Tanaka. T. Tanaka's Cyclopaedia of Edible Plants of the World. Keigaku Publishing (1976-00-00)
    8. ? 8.08.1 Yanovsky. E. Food Plants of the N. American Indians. Publication no. 237. U.S. Depf of Agriculture. ()
    9. ? Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany Timber Press. Oregon. ISBN 0-88192-453-9 (1998-00-00)
    10. ? Thomas. G. S. Perennial Garden Plants J. M. Dent & Sons, London. ISBN 0 460 86048 8 (1990-00-00)
    11. ? 11.011.1 Thomas. G. S. Plants for Ground Cover J. M. Dent & Sons ISBN 0-460-12609-1 (1990-00-00)
    12. ? Phillips. R. & Rix. M. Perennials Volumes 1 and 2. Pan Books ISBN 0-330-30936-9 (1991-00-00)
    13. ? 13.013.1 F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956 Oxford University Press (1951-00-00)
    14. ? Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named PFAFimport-43

    Facts about "Onoclea sensibilis"RDF feed
    Article is incompleteYes +
    Article requires citationsNo +
    Article requires cleanupYes +
    Belongs to familyOnocleaceae +
    Belongs to genusOnoclea +
    Functions asGround cover +
    Has binomial nameOnoclea sensibilis +
    Has common nameSensitive Fern +
    Has drought toleranceIntolerant +
    Has edible partLeaves + and Root +
    Has edible useUnknown use +
    Has growth rateVigorous +
    Has hardiness zone4 +
    Has material partUnknown part +
    Has material useHair care +
    Has mature height0.5 +
    Has mature width0.5 +
    Has medicinal partUnknown part +
    Has medicinal useGalactogogue +, Poultice + and Women's complaints +
    Has search nameonoclea sensibilis + and sensitive fern +
    Has shade tolerancePermanent shade +
    Has soil ph preferenceVery acid +, Acid + and Neutral +
    Has soil texture preferenceSandy +, Loamy + and Clay +
    Has sun preferencePartial sun +
    Has taxonomic rankSpecies +
    Has taxonomy nameOnoclea sensibilis +
    Has water requirementshigh +
    Inhabits ecosystem nicheSoil surface +
    Is taxonomy typeSpecies +
    PFAF cultivation notes migratedNo +
    PFAF edible use notes migratedNo +
    PFAF material use notes migratedNo +
    PFAF medicinal use notes migratedNo +
    PFAF propagation notes migratedNo +
    PFAF toxicity notes migratedNo +
    Tolerates nutritionally poor soilNo +
    Uses mature size measurement unitMeters +
    Has subobjectThis property is a special property in this wiki.Onoclea sensibilis +, Onoclea sensibilis +, Onoclea sensibilis +, Onoclea sensibilis +, Onoclea sensibilis + and Onoclea sensibilis +