Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina)

Common names:
Give a thumbs up Sweet Fern
Give a thumbs up Sweet-fern

Botanical names:
Comptonia peregrina Accepted
Comptonia peregrina var. asplenifolia Synonym
Comptonia peregrina subsp. asplenifolia Synonym

General Plant Information (Edit)
Plant Habit: Shrub
Life cycle: Perennial
Sun Requirements: Full Sun
Full Sun to Partial Shade
Partial or Dappled Shade
Water Preferences: Mesic
Dry Mesic
Soil pH Preferences: Very strongly acid (4.5 – 5.0)
Strongly acid (5.1 – 5.5)
Moderately acid (5.6 – 6.0)
Slightly acid (6.1 – 6.5)
Minimum cold hardiness: Zone 3 -40 °C (-40 °F) to -37.2 °C (-35)
Maximum recommended zone: Zone 7b
Plant Height: 6-36 inches
Plant Spread: 15-24 inches
Leaves: Deciduous
Fruit: Other: bur-like strobiles
Fruiting Time: Late summer or early fall
Flowers: Inconspicuous
Other: male cylindric catkins & female roundish, solitary catkins
Flower Color: Brown
Flower Time: Spring
Suitable Locations: Xeriscapic
Uses: Groundcover
Will Naturalize
Edible Parts: Leaves
Dynamic Accumulator: Nitrogen fixer
Resistances: Drought tolerant
Propagation: Seeds: Other info: wild plants are notoriously difficult to transplant.
Containers: Not suitable for containers
Miscellaneous: Tolerates poor soil


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Posted by robertduval14 (Mason, New Hampshire - Zone 5b) on Mar 4, 2013 9:40 PM

Not a fern, not an herb. Though to look at it you may think the former, and to smell the aroma when you rub the leaves you may think the latter.

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Posted by ILPARW (southeast Pennsylvania - Zone 6b) on Jan 13, 2018 1:17 PM

The Sweetfern is found in the wild, growing in full sun to deep shade in acid, well-drained soils in woods, barrens, dunes, on cliffs, and in open fields from Nova Scotia and southeast Canada, southern Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the Delmarva peninsula, down the Appalachians into northern Georgia, spots in northern Ohio, spots in northwest Indiana and northeast Illinois, northern Michigan, central and northern Wisconsin, and northeast Minnesota. I've seen a good number wild in the southern Poconos of Pennsylvania despite the fact that deer and rabbits can browse on the plant. This is usually about a 3-feet high shrub with fern-like leaves that are aromatic when crushed and can be used in landscapes. It does not like clay soils, especially if heavy clay soils, though a good quality, well-drained clay soil seems all right. I planted one in my backyard, but the many rabbits ate it down to the ground in winter. it has a thin, stringy, long creeping shallow, lateral root system that freely suckers and fixes nitrogen, but it is difficult to transplant and slow to establish. Some native plant nurseries sell this in pots and a few large, diverse conventional nurseries may sell some. I think it is a very interesting plant!

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