Content Detail

Sweet-fern is a colony-forming, small shrub with wonderfully aromatic, fern-like leaves. This shrub is a useful selection in the landscape for erosion control and naturalizing, due to its tolerance of adverse conditions. It is adaptable to poor, infertile soil and is also drought, salt, and heat resistant.  This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) bayberry
  • Family (botanic) Myricaceae
  • Tree or plant type Shrub
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Low-growing shrub (under 3 feet), Small shrub (3-5 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 2, Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago)
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Sandy soil
  • Tolerances Occasional drought, Road salt
  • Season of interest late spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Round, Thicket-forming
  • Growth rate Moderate, Slow

Size and Form: 

Sweet-fern is a rounded, 2 to 4 foot high and 4 to 8 foot wide shrub. It can grow larger due to its suckering habit.

Native geographic location and habitat: 

Native in the Chicago area as well as the upper Midwest and the northeastern United States. C-Value: 9.  

Bark color and texture: 

Stems are green to yellow-brown with obvious lenticels.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture: 

The simple, alternate, dark green leaves are fern-like, narrow, and about 2 to 4 inches long.  Leaves are fragrant.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size: 

Flowers are Inconspicuous and carried on small catkins.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions: 

Nutlets are formed in a bur-like cluster.

Plant care:

Sweet-fern is a low maintenance plant. The unusual green leaves turn brown in fall and persist most of the winter. May be difficult to transplant. Does not do well in clay soils.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

No serious pests and resistant to drought, heat, and salt. Tolerates infertile soils.


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