Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 922 Osmunda regalis

Common Names: royal fern, flowering fern Family: Osmundaceae (cinnamon fern Family)
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regal fern
The tips of these ripening fertile fronds are densely covered with thousands of small brown structures called sporangia that when mature release the dustlike spores.


Royal fern is a large and dramatic fern that grows from a stout rhizome which creeps along the ground, then ascends like a stump to give rise to a crown-shaped tussock of light green leaves. The rootstock, with its mass of wiry black fibers, can be as much as 12 in (30.5 cm) above the soil line in really large specimens. Most kinds of ferns bear their reproductive spores on the underside of their leaves, but the osmunda ferns have their spores in clusters on specialized fronds. Osmunda regalis has two kinds of fronds: sterile and fertile. Both types are twice divided: the leaflets (pinnae) are divided again into pinnules that are quite large, nearly 2 in (5.1 cm) long. The whole leaf can be up to 6 ft (1.8 m) long, and looks more like some kind of mimosa, locust or acacia than a typical fern. The fertile fronds lack leafy pinnae towards their apex, which is instead covered with attractive clusters of brown sporangia which bear the spores. Royal fern can be distinguished from the related cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) by its bipinnate leaves, the fertile ones with clusters of sporangia towards the tips.


Dispersed by tiny wind blown spores, royal fern, Osmunda regalis, has managed to colonize much of the world. This cosmopolitan fern occurs naturally in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America. In North America, royal fern occurs in moist woods, floodplains, and swamps from Newfoundland west to Saskatchewan and south to Louisiana and Florida.


Light: Grow royal fern in light shade to full shade. With plenty of water it can tolerate nearly full sun, more so than cinnamon fern.< Moisture: Royal fern likes a moist, somewhat water retentive soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 10. Propagation: Royal fern can be propagated from spores, but it's quicker to get new plants by dividing the rhizomes.


Royal fern provides a dramatic, tropical effect in a shady border, woodland garden or at the edge of a pond or stream. It does best in soils with an acidic pH.

The young croziers or fiddleheads can be prepared like asparagus and eaten. The fibrous roots (osmunda fiber) were formerly used as a medium for growing orchids and bromeliads. Native Americans used various parts of royal fern medicinally to treat a variety of ailments.

royal fern
Royal fern is well behaved in the garden and provides a spectacular backdrop for shade-loving flowering plants.


Royal fern is truly the king of the ferns. It is the largest and most spectacular fern occurring in North America. The genus is named for Osmunder (also known as Thor), the Saxon god of war.

Like the cinnamon fern, royal fern is listed by The Florida Department of Agriculture as a "Commercially Exploited Species," which means that it cannot be removed from the wild for commercial purposes without a permit. Royal fern is, however, legally available from nurseries specializing in native plants.

Steve Christman 4/6/01; updated 4/10/04, 3/14/08

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Osmunda species profiled on Floridata:

Osmunda cinnamomea

( cinnamon fern )

Osmunda regalis

( royal fern, flowering fern )

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