FernJapanese Tassel Fern

"They tossed me petals, they wreathed me fern,
They weighted me down with a marble urn.
And I lie here warm, and I lie here dry,
And watch the worms slip by, slip by."

-Dorothy Parker


Polystichum polyblepharum, the Japanese Tassel Fern, is native to both Japan & South Korea, hence alternately known as Korean Tassel Fern. It was formerly called P. setosum & occasionally still listed as such.

It is occasionally given the English common name "Japanese Lace Fern," but doesn't really resemble lace, so the name is not preferred.

It has also been called "Holly Fern" because it is evergreen like a holly. But this name is now most associated with ferns of the genus Cyrtomium which have evergreen leaves that actually do look like holly leaves. The array of common names has over time given way to by far the most apropos "Tassel Fern."

Tassel FernIt is a very cold tolerant evergreen, shown in the first photo in a late November (2001) portrait. That year, this medium-sized specimen had a fifteen or eighteen inch spread of shiny fronds on hairy stems. By 2003, it was producing two-foot fronds.

The tiny ground cover that can be seen creeping in under the fern in the first photo is Baby's Tears (Soleirolia soleirolii) which was initially planted only between flagstones, but has spread pretty much where it likes. Baby's Tears also does well in an enclosed high-humidity frog or salamander terrarium.

The tassel fern shown in the first two photos lives along our shade corridor's flagstone path where it constantly proves itself one of the prettiest of many species of ferns we've planted.

Tassel FernWe've several kinds of more-or-less evergreen ferns, & many in reality have to have their previous year of growth clipped off when new croziers appear. But the Tassel Fern really does keep it's fronds from one year to the next. I trim off only those which become damaged with time.

In the springtime the Tassel Fern puts on a burst of growth, the young fronds resembling tassels, as you can see in the second photo taken in May (2002).

The crosiers of the majority of ferns open upward & outward; they never "dangle" as does the tassel fern. It, too, begins in the normal manner with fat golden-hued unfurling crosiers. But then each young frond's tip inexplicably turns downward, like pendant flags. This pose lasts several days until the frond is fully opened & mature.

The third photo, from April (2004), is of a second specimen growing in a shade garden underneath a Paperbark Maple. It's a bit bigger than the first one shown, having outgrown a tight location & being moved to under the Paperbark the previous autumn. The purple flowers poking up through the fronds are Corydalis x flexuosa "Blackberry Wine".

The reason this second one is such a light green compared to the more typical dark, shiny green (as in the specimen shown in the first photo), is because I cut back the previous years fronds. These April leaves are newly matured & not yet hardened off to their shimmering-shiny deep sea-green.

Generally the leaves on these last two years each, but sometimes they do get quite warn in winter, & it had suffered a bit of transplant shock, so for this year I decided to just trim it all. It will rarely again be seen with so few leaves at a time.

These ferns are quietly sturdy & handsome the whole year round, but when tasselled in spring, it becomes spectacular.

As a year-round fern it's hard to beat. Tidy & symmetrical, it is like a PreRaphaelite painter's idealization of a woodland fern.

Like most ferns it loves cool shade & damp rich loam to the acidic side of the pH scale, ideal for our Puget Sound weather & environment. Like the majority of ferns it likes evenly moist humusy soil, but in winter it is somewhat drought-tolerant & could even be harmed by excesses of moistness.


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