Now that the deciduous leaves have all fallen, our native evergreen plants are looking especially attractive. Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is a plant that I appreciate all during the winter months. It is found throughout Georgia, in areas of dry shade as well as on moist slopes near streams and creeks. So named for its evergreen presence during Christmastime, this large, clumping fern grows from tiny spores that are released from the dot-like sori on the back of the fertile fronds.
Christmas fern will stay green all winter until the new fronds begin to unfurl in March. The densely furry fiddleheads rise from the center of the clump, their golden hairs glinting in the spring sunshine. There is no need to cut off the old fronds; they will fade into the leaf litter as the new fronds spread out above them.
We often find Christmas fern on our plant rescues in the metro Atlanta area. They are easily transplanted and do well in their new homes if placed in part-shade and adequately watered the first year. I like to use them to define an informal path; I have seen other people use them to stabilize slopes where English ivy was removed.
As you walk about through natural areas this winter, keep an eye out for its presence in the woods. It is generally left alone by deer, although sometimes they will rest on it. Our members recognized the potential of this underutilized native perennial when they chose it for the GNPS Plant of the Year in 2008. Perhaps you might find a home for it in your landscape this year.