Central Coast Ferns - Part 1: Sun to Part Shade

Ferns are magical, breathing an ancient stillness into a place. On the Central Coast, we are so lucky to have very many fine ferns locally that are beautiful and gardenworthy. Native people used to use them - and still do - in basketry and also to thatch buildings.

Ferns grow in many ecological niches, from damp and shady to sunny and dry. Above is Dryopteris arguta, Coastal Wood Fern, which is happy in sun or shade (more pictures of it below). This is part 1 of a two part post - one for ferns that grow in surprisingly dry sunny spots, and another for those that grow in the moister shadier places.

Pellaea andromedaefolia
, Coffee Fern

These are delicate, small ferns that can grow in masses on sunny rocky slopes.

Pellaea andromedaefolia, Coffee Fern, has rounded leaf segment tips, and Pellaea mucronata, Bird's Foot Fern has a point at the tip of each leaf segment, but otherwise they are similar at least to the non-botanist.

I don't know that these are available in the trade, so maybe they are difficult to grow in a garden. They would be lovely in a rock wall. Same goes for the next fern...

Pentagramma triangularis, Golden-back Fern
(AKA Pityrogramma triangularis)

I love this little fern, so delicate and so tough. Native Americans used the black stems in their basketry. I love how ferns unfurl.

It grows in the most inhospitable crevices on dry rocky and sandy places in the chaparral. At the right time of year, you can pat the small fronds on a child's hand and leave a golden print from the powdery spores on the underside.

Pteridium aquilinum, Bracken Fern
Bracken fern, Pteridium aquilinum, appears sporadically here. I have a vivid memory of a sweeping hillside in Wales in fall, covered with pinkish-orange bracken fern, a magical fairy forest for me and my three-year-old companion to creep under. Around my neighborhood I see it growing on sunny south slopes, and also shady areas too. Our local native is Pteridium aquilinium pubescens, but I don't know if that's what is here though I expect so. I have to do more work to figure that out.

I love the color of dead brackenfern fronds.

Dryopteris arguta, Coastal Wood Fern
Though books say this fern likes the shade, I find it all over my property and mostly on the sunny chaparral side, sometimes in the partial shade of a shrub. It is a tough cookie and an attractive classic upright fern shape. It is a dominant fern on our property, along with goldenback fern. I love seeing it grow in odd nooks and crannies along the chaparral slope here.

When young, and in the shade, it is tenderest green. Like other shady ferns - of which more in a later post.


Christine said…
How lucky you have Dryopteris! I can't find it at the nurseries. A post with perfect timing, since I'll be planting a shade bed next week. Thanks!
Troy said…
I'm a big fan of Pellaea andromedaefolia also. It's tough and the new fronds are a kind of see- through burgundy color. I'm not sure what the story is with Dryopteris arguta but no one wants to grow it. A few years ago it was listed as a host for SOD so that maybe one reason. Both are really easy in the garden so hopefully a grower will realize the potential and bring them into the trade.
I love ferns, and we're so lucky to have so many varieties growing here. Interesting, I'm not sure I've seen the Coffee Fern here though...although to my eye it looks the least fern-like. It's quite possible I've overlooked it. I have been seeing a lot of Golden-back fern this spring, and our bracken fern stand near the house looks like a swath of upright sticks in the ground, but they're starting to unfurl their sleepy heads, and they fill in the foot of our slopes so well. Our Coastal Wood Ferns are everywhere too, although I do see more of them in the shady wooded areas, it seems quite tough almost anywhere it's growing here.
Noelle said…
I have always loved ferns. We had a very large one that just flourished in our home in Southern California when I was a child. With our dry, desert climate, they do not thrive here, so I will enjoy yours :^)
Country Mouse said…
Christine, I'm pretty sure I've seen Dryopteris arguta at CNPS sales at least, maybe you'll get lucky. I want to propagate ferns but don't know how other than dividing clumps. I haven't tried this yet. You can come by and dig some up if you want - I do have a lot growing here. Shoot an email to countrymoosie@gmail.com if you are interested. Not sure when is a good time to do that though.
Troy, I do enjoy the different colors of Coffee Fern too. I hadn't heard that about SOD.
Curbstone, I'll be linking to your post on sword fern which is great! I'd look for Coffee Fern on western facing partly sunny slopes. It is an odd looking fern, isn't it! I want to find birds foot. I'll be looking for the pointy bits!
Noelle - glad I can give you a breathe of fern air!
Brad said…
I think I'm only familiar with the last two. The first two would look great in a rock wall. I think I notice ferns more when they're in the damp understory of the forest. I saw a bunch of ferns unfolding on my hike yesterday. I'll probably post the pics in a few days.
Randy Emmitt said…
Wow enjoyed this posting! Lots of ferns and not a single one I knew. I recall the Oregon coast wading through nearly waist high ferns at the edge of the cliff over looking the ocean.
lost said…
This time of year the Pellaea andromedaefolia are great trail companions. I like how I can look on the up-slope, cut side of the trail and see them at near eye-level, much easier to appreciate, and so much to appreciate.