Because we all live in the land of ferns, new and more interesting ferns are sought after and coveted by many gardeners and landscaper professionals. The common native ferns are well-known and already well-used. It seems that everyone has a Sword Fern in their landscape, whether it’s intentional or not. The main reason that Sword Ferns are so popular is because they are evergreen. Evergreen ferns are great for our northwest gardens, especially in the darker and wetter months when everything else is looking a little beat on and brown.
Enter the Alaska Fern (Polystichum setiferum ‘Divisilobum’). This attractive evergreen fern grows quite large, with fronds up to 4 feet long. It’s not crazy big, like a Sword Fern, but it grows to a very manageable size. The Alaska Fern also claims to be deer resistant, but I don’t think that any one plant can really claim this. Stupid deer eat everything.
My favorite characteristic about Alaska Fern is that it produces its own fern “babies”! Down the center of each frond, small little nodes will turn into “baby” ferns which can then be “divided” into more ferns. If you are reading a plant blog like this then you probably know that ferns normally regrow through spores on the underside of the frond. The Alaska Fern is one of few ferns that can actually be propagated by division, hence the name ‘Divisilobum’. Pretty incredible!
Buyer’s warning: beware of ferns that are labeled “Alaska Fern”; some are actually Soft Shield Ferns. The best way to differentiate between them is to look for the nodes down the center of the frond. If they are absent, it is most likely a variety of Soft Shield fern that is not the true dividable Alaska Fern. To ensure you are buying the incredible dividing fern, look for the Sunbreak name on the tag in the plant at your local Seattle Garden Center. Try one of these beauties today!