The new growth of most ferns is called a fiddle head. These coiled, new fronds look very much like the decorative scrolled end on a fiddle. While all ferns have fiddle heads, the name is usually associated with the edible ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). Connoisseurs of fine food consider this fern a delicacy. The fiddle heads have an asparagus-like taste and are a good source of vitamins A and C.
Eating fiddle heads is a rite of spring for many in New England States. The ostrich fern is a native to that region as well as to the upper Midwestern states. Ostrich fern also grows freely in Alaska and in many parts of Canada. It is grown in the Northwest where wild-food enthusiasts consider it high on the culinary list. Ostrich fern will grow in the home garden in regions with moderate to cold winters and mild summers. Fiddlehead fern does not do well in areas that remain warm year round. The winter chill period is important to the growth cycle of this fern.
Ferns of all kinds thrive in rich organic soil. When they are planted underneath trees they will benefit from decaying leaf matter. They prefer a slightly acidic soil PH around 5.5 to 6.0, which is easily achieved with leaf compost. Be sure to use organic soil amendments free of pesticides and herbicides when growing this fern as a food source. Prepare the soil by adding equal parts soil and compost directly into the planting hole.You may want to create a bed just for your ostrich ferns; in nature they grow in large attractive patches.
Planting Ostrich Fern
Ostrich fern spreads by underground runners, so you will want to space the plants apart. Each plant will spread to 3 feet in width, so 2 to 3 feet between plants is a good distance. New plants will develop around the parent and can be divided and moved or left in place. Use live plants for your fern bed. Plant size is a matter of choice, but 1-gallon plants will mature quicker. Remove your fern from its container and plant it at the same soil depth. A one-year-old plant will produce edible fiddle heads.
Caring for Fiddlehead Ferns
Moisture is critical for this fern. Do not allow this plant to dry out. During warm periods it may need water every day. A good solution is to set up a simple drip system on a timer so the soil can be kept moist at all times. Planting ostrich fern near a pond or water feature is another way to add to the moisture level. This is a shade plant, but in cooler regions it can take morning sun. You will not need to fertilize ostrich ferns.
Ferns are a wonderful addition to the shade garden. It is grown as much as a landscape plant as it is for its food value. Ostrich fern dies back to the ground in colder regions, so plant it along with evergreen ferns and hellebores for winter structure. Hosta is also a great compliment plant for ferns. Plant a bog garden and pair ostrich fern with other wetland plants.