Sweet Fern (Peregrina)

The Sweet Fern (Peregrina) is generally described as a perennial subshrub or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Sweet Fern (Peregrina) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Sweet Fern (Peregrina) will reach up to 2 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 2 feet.

The Sweet Fern (Peregrina) is not commonly available from nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, cuttings. It has a none ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -38°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

This nitrogen-fixing plant is used primarily as a ground cover for erosion control and species diversity in sterile, sandy soils. The abundant underground stems, or rhizomes, makes it especially suited to stabilizing steep, sandy banks. It makes a pleasing companion plant in a coastal setting with the low growing junipers, rugosa rose, bayberry, and beach plum.

General Characteristics

Bayberry Family (Myricaceae). Sweetfern is a low, loosely branched, mat-forming shrub, 1-3 feet high, with sweet-scented, fern like leaves. The alternate, hair-covered leaves are 2-5 inches long and taper at each end. There is an occasional compound leaf form variation. The leaf blades are deeply cut into 20 or more rounded lobes, dark green above, paler and hair-covered beneath and on the midrib and margin above. Resinous glands cover both surfaces. Leaves are very aromatic when crushed. The flowers are small, inconspicuous catkins that bloom during April and May. Flowers of one or both sexes can be produced on an individual plant. The male catkins are rather long and cylindrical; the female catkins are short and rounded. In winter, the male catkins are prominent and erect. The female catkins become bur-like at maturity and are 1/2 inch in diameter. The seeds are nutlets that mature in August and become available in September and October. About four seeds are found in each fruit. Each seed is about 1/4 inch long, olive brown in color, and shiny.

Required Growing Conditions

Sweetfern does especially well in open, sterile, sandy soils of woodlands, clearings, and pastures. It prefers acidic soils over limestone soils.

Sweetfern is distributed throughout northeastern United States.

Cultivation and Care

Some nurseries offer wild collected clumps, but it is best established using nursery-grown, containerized plants. Losses of plants from the wild can be considerable. One or two year old liner material is also acceptable.


It is considered threatened or endangered in several states.

General Upkeep and Control

Little management is needed if planted in an appropriate site. Sweetfern does not tolerate shading well, so removing competing vegetation is important.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin) No known varieties of sweetfern exist. Plants are available at nurseries in the Northeast that specialize in coastal plants.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Subshrub, Shrub
Growth Period Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability No Known Source
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Rhizomatous
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intermediate
Height When Mature 2
Vegetative Spread Moderate
Flower Color White
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance Low
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate None
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -38
Soil Depth for Roots 14
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4–7 pH
Precipitation Range 30–30 inches/yr
Planting Density 1200–4800 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 14
Minimum Frost-Free Days 100 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database, plants.usda.gov.
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA