Sweetfern

66a075fd0cea6ed74b2391c3d121012eFirst of all, Sweetfern, Comptonia peregrina is not a fern at all, but actually, a shrub that is in the bayberry family. The leaves, which are very aromatic, are fernlike in their appearance. An extremely useful and adaptable native, it can grow in a variety of soils in full sun to part shade. Often, due to its spreading and colonizing habit, it used to stabilize slopes or other disturbed sites. Since it fixes its own nitrogen, is drought tolerant, withstands the wind, and can thrive in poor gravelly soils, it is often used in commercial and municipal projects. But it is also very useful in the home landscape. The deep green foliage is an attractive addition to any design that keeps in mind its ability to spread. Once it attains its mature height of 3′-5′, the plants tend to not get any higher, making a hedge that requires very little pruning. In spring the yellowish green flowers are not striking, but very interesting. These are followed later in the year by small edible nutlets held inside a fuzzy casing. The leaves can be used for a tea and many medicinal applications including, but not limited to, astringents, tonics, and the relief of the effects of poison ivy. This is one very tough native that should be considered more often in the residential landscape. We’ll have plenty of Comptonia here at the nursery this spring. If you are looking for an aromatic native with multiple uses, put this plant on the list! It’s a gem!

9 comments on “Sweetfern

    • Hello, I think Sweetfern is best used in areas you can let it fill in. It is great for naturalizing an area , you may want to use it as a backdrop in your landscape, a place that it can spread out without interfering with other plants.

  1. I have this growing wild in my “yard” ie jungle, and i love it. Brush against it and get a heavenly scented treat! It does grow easuly in our imported gravel and native woodland clay. Love it!

  2. I have sweetfern growing on my property; it loves my poor, acid, sandy soil. And while I love it, I’ve also found that, because of its colonizing habit, it’s a bit of a thug, crowding out other plants. Any suggestions for how to keep it contained, or companion plants that it will play well with, or how to remove it where it is not wanted?

    • Jean,
      Like any plant that spreads one must decide how much space to allow it to do so. I recommend to customers that they plan on that at the time of planting and how it will fit into their garden and the amount of time they are willing to spend keeping it in check. I assume yours came with the property, and being happy, has spread accordingly. It can be dug fairly easily, the roots being close to the surface. If you want to transplant it to another area, dig it in the fall, do not worry about the top growth, and new plants will arise from the roots. If you have the space, a tough also spreading choice, like hayscented fern, might mingle well with it and possibly limit some light to the new runners and slow it down some. Containment would require a fairly deep barrier, costly and labor intensive. Good luck, sometimes some of our plants are just too happy. Rick

  3. The smell of sweet fern is heavenly. When I was growing up, we had a field near our house where the topsoil had been removed years earlier. By the time I came along, it had filled with sweet fern and bayberries. I spent many summer hours reading in that field surrounded by the intoxicating fragrance of those shrubs. I have a little corner where they can spread so I will be by your place to buy some this spring.

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