Sensitive fern, Onoclea sensibilis

Onoclea sensibilis

Sensitive fern

  • Botanical name: Onoclea sensibilis
  • Common name: Sensitive fern
  • Family: Onocleaceae
  • Plant Type: Perennial, Deciduous
Foliage colour:


The sensitive fern, Onoclea sensibilis, is so-called because, despite being hardy, its fronds are sensitive to being hit by late frosts. However, in the UK the foliage usually emerges late in spring, when the risk of frost has mostly passed.


Onoclea sensibilis is a deciduous fern, thriving in soil that remains constantly moist and producing lush, apple-green fronds. It looks fantastic planted next to ponds or streams alongside other moisture-loving plants like candelabra primulas and rodgersias.


For best results, grow Onoclea sensibilis in full shade, partial shade or dappled shade in moist soil. It can also be grown in full sun, but only if the soil remains moist. It spreads by rhizomes, and can do so a little too successfully if grown in favourable conditions. The spore-bearing fronds can be left on to provide winter interest. The other dead fronds can be cut back in winter, though some people choose to leave them on until spring to provide some winter protection. Onoclea sensibilis has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

How to grow Onoclea sensibilis

  • Plant size

    60cm height

    90cm spread

  • Aspect

    North facing, east facing, west facing

  • Position in border

    Front, middle

  • Sun exposure: Dappled shade, full shade, partial shade
  • Shade type: Damp
  • Hardiness: Hardy
  • Soil type: Acidic / boggy / clay / heavy / moist

Plant calendar

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Do not Sow in January

Do not Sow in February

Do Sow in March

Do Sow in April

Do Sow in May

Do not Sow in June

Do not Sow in July

Do not Sow in August

Do not Sow in September

Do Sow in October

Do Sow in November

Do not Sow in December


Do not Plant in January

Do not Plant in February

Do Plant in March

Do Plant in April

Do Plant in May

Do not Plant in June

Do not Plant in July

Do not Plant in August

Do Plant in September

Do Plant in October

Do Plant in November

Do not Plant in December


Do not Divide in January

Do not Divide in February

Do Divide in March

Do Divide in April

Do not Divide in May

Do not Divide in June

Do not Divide in July

Do not Divide in August

Do not Divide in September

Do not Divide in October

Do not Divide in November

Do not Divide in December

Cut back
Cut back

Do not Cut back in January

Do not Cut back in February

Do not Cut back in March

Do not Cut back in April

Do not Cut back in May

Do not Cut back in June

Do not Cut back in July

Do not Cut back in August

Do not Cut back in September

Do Cut back in October

Do Cut back in November

Do not Cut back in December

Onoclea sensibilis and wildlife

Onoclea sensibilis has no particular known value to wildlife in the UK.

Is Onoclea sensibilis poisonous?

Onoclea sensibilis has no toxic effects reported.

No reported toxicity to:

No reported toxicity to Birds

No reported toxicity to Cats

No reported toxicity to Dogs

No reported toxicity to Horses

No reported toxicity to Livestock

No reported toxicity to People

Plants that go well with Onoclea sensibilis