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Photo by Kaspar Wittlinger

Plant of the Week: Minutissimum Dwarf Lady Fern

By Kaspar Wittlinger | October 1, 2017

This October, we’re celebrating the moments of transformation in the High Line gardens created to captivate, draw us in, and show us a different way of looking at nature. As part of Celebrating Fall at the Woodland Edge, we’ll be featuring related plants throughout the month. Follow along on social media using #HighLineFallCelebration.

As the fall approaches, the High Line’s dwarf lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina ‘Minutissimum’) looks especially radiant in the afternoon, with western sunlight filtering through the surrounding birches of the Gansevoort Woodland. Athyrium, from Greek, translates to ‘little door’ in description of a minute hinged scale protecting the fern’s spore clusters on the fronds’ underside in spring. This is a significant feature when telling lady ferns apart from other members of their family. Filix-femina means “lady fern” in Latin and hints to the plant’s medicinal uses for breast milk induction and to ease pains related to childbirth.

While lady ferns can reach a height of 3 feet, the ‘Minutissimum’ cultivar grows only 6 – 10 inches tall. The species has an enormous native range and can be found throughout North America and Eurasia in woodlands, marshes, and prairies. Though a pioneering species and sometimes the first plants to take hold on rock surfaces, lady ferns prefer humus-rich, moist soils. In the Western United States
Athyrium filix-femina often grows as an understory plant, and will completely carpet the forest floor given the right conditions. The fronds provide an abundant food source for grizzly bears.

The fiddleheads – newly emerged, tightly curled fronds – are edible and can be harvested in the spring. Par-boiled and sautéed, they have a unique flavor reminiscent of artichoke and green beans.

Easy to grow, Athyrium filix-femina is an excellent choice for home gardens. These ferns tolerate deep shade but do best with ample morning sun. When planting in the garden, select a location that is sheltered from wind and rainwater runoff, as the fronds break easily.

Minutissimum dwarf lady fern can be found in the Gansevoort Woodland, between Gansevoort and Little West 12th Streets

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 500 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today. Every week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line’s most important gardening projects.

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TD Bank is the Presenting Green Sponsor of the High Line.