Cinnamon Fern - A Shady Deal

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Ferns grab the attention of the beholder of their beauty, no matter what landscape they grace, and the Cinnamon Fern [Osmunda cinnamomea] is no exception. This fern is a native to shady areas such as bogs, woodlands, streams, swamps and marshes in the United States, from Texas to Florida, as well as in eastern Canada. All ferns are protected by law, but some ferns are rarer or more endangered than others. The Cinnamon fern is on the USDA endangered species list for the state of Iowa.

This fern belongs in the Osmundaceae family and is one of the first ferns to shine forth in the spring. Young fronds, also known as fiddleheads, are covered with delicate, furry white hairs before they unfurl.

The fronds which are a yellow-green color when they mature, grow in a symmetric clump, measures from 18 � 36 inches tall, with a spread of 6 � 12 inches. With proper care and conditions, this fern can grow up to 5 feet. The fertile fronds resemble a cinnamon stick, and the stipe, (leave stalk) found near the base of the fronds are also cinnamon-colored, hence the name of this deciduous, herbaceous perennial. It is these fibers (Osumunda fiber) that horticulturists, florists and gardeners like to pot orchids in.

The fertile fronds, which appear in groups, are the first to make an appearance; rising from a shallow, dark rootstalk. When the narrow, erect fronds release their spores, they turn a golden brown or cinnamon color, and the spores are released to the ground. The sterile fronds emerge in late spring and keep their cool toned shades of green throughout the summer, with the foliage turning to a pretty yellow in the autumn. The sterile fronds bend outwards with a �vase-shaped� circle that encloses the cinnamon-colored fronds. The leaves do not last from year to year.

The Cinnamon Fern is a slow spreader, but the heights it reaches make it an ideal accent plant. It is an upright and robust grower when it is in the soil it prefers, which is slightly acidic (pH 5.5 to 6.5) and kept consistently moist. It prefers shade, but it can tolerate early sun (early morning is best, to avoid sunburn to the leaves). The fern has a medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions; it will grow in wet, submerged soils and will tolerate flooding.

The Cinnamon fern was used by the Native Americans for medicinal purposes as well. The Cherokee used a compound decoction of root applied or rubbed on the area affected with warm hands, to treat rheumatism. For snakebite, a portion of the root was chewed and swallowed, and the remainder was applied to the bite. The Cherokee also cooked fronds and drank the tea as a spring tonic.

The Iroquois would also use a decoction to treat colds, rheumatism, joint pain and malaise. A cold, compound infusion was used as a wash, and a decoction taken as an aid in treating venereal disease. A tea (infusion) was made to aid in treating menstruation problems, the flow of milk in nursing mothers and for caked breasts. The mucilage makes a good ointment for sprains, bruises and wounds; and when mucilage was mixed with brandy, it was once popular as a rub for backache.

In today�s society, some consider the fiddleheads to be a delicacy. They will boil or steam the fiddleheads with butter and eat them. Yet people are not alone in favoring the young fiddleheads, as they are a source of food for wildlife also, such as the ruffed grouse.

The Cinnamon fern is certainly one to consider for accents to your beautiful shade garden, by a stream or pond or in amongst the trees on your wooded landscape, and it can be found at your favorite nursery or garden supply center.

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Author: Tammy Sons

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