920 Osmunda cinnamomeaCommon Names: cinnamon fern Family: Osmundaceae (cinnamon fern Family)
Cinnamon fern grows like a big shuttlecock from the ascending tips of thick, creeping semiwoody rhizomes. Most ferns carry their reproductive spores on the undersides of the fronds; cinnamon fern (and other species of Osmunda) have separate and distinctive fertile fronds in addition to the typical sterile fronds. The large sterile fronds grow 3-5 ft (1.2-1.5 m) tall. They are pinnately compound with each of the 30-50 pinnae divided again. At first the fiddleheads are cinnamon brown and covered with a dense wooly pubescence, but the fronds turn pale green as they unfold and mature. Later in the year, they turn golden brown before dying back in winter. The fertile fronds, which lack leafy pinnae, emerge in spring from the center of the plant, standing a little above the vaselike cluster of sterile fronds. They are green at first but soon turn rich cinnamon brown. Fertile fronds are covered with abundant masses of brownish sporangia. The fertile fronds die back after shedding their spores in late summer. The roots of cinnamon fern are black, wiry and fibrous, eventually forming a tough, thick mat. Cinnamon fern is readily identified by the distinctive cinnamon colored non-leafy fertile fronds, or if fertile fronds are absent, by the presence of a conspicuous tuft of orange hairs on the underside of each pinna at its base.
Cinnamon fern, Osmunda cinnamomea, is a common fern that grows naturally in moist habitats such as wet woods, the shores of lakes and rivers, and in bogs and swamps from South America through Central America, north through New Mexico, Texas and Florida, and on to Minnesota and southern New England. The species also occurs naturally in eastern Asia.
CultureCinnamon fern is a long lived perennial which thrives in partial shade in a moist, humus rich acidic soil. Light: Cinnamon fern thrives in dappled shade, but with plenty of water it can take nearly full sun. Moisture: Cinnamon fern requires a constantly moist soil or very frequent watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 10. Propagation: Clumps of cinnamon fern can be divided to make new plants. Fresh spores can be sown on potting medium in light. They develop rapidly.
Grow cinnamon fern at the margins of a pond or stream, or in moist borders. As an accent, a clump of cinnamon fern adds a lush, tropical look and a dramatic effect to moist, shady areas.
American Indians used a decoction of cinnamon fern to treat rheumatism, headache, chills, colds and snakebite. Frond tips were eaten both raw and cooked. The fiddleheads are edible, and said to taste like a blend of broccoli, asparagus and artichoke.
There are about a dozen species of Osmunda, occurring on all continents except Australia. Royal fern (O. regalis) is another common North American species that is well suited to cultivation, adapting even to full sun if given plenty of water. The fibrous root masses of royal fern are the source of osmunda fiber, which is used as a potting medium for orchids and other epiphytes. No doubt cinnamon fern roots would serve as well.
The Florida Department of Agriculture lists cinnamon fern as a "Commercially Exploited Species," which means that it cannot be removed from the wild for commercial purposes without a permit. Cinnamon fern is, however, legally available from many of the native plant nurseries.
Steve Christman 3/30/01; updated 4/10/04, 4/11/05