Spiraling Ostrich Ferns and the Road of Life

Ostrich Fern frond
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) frond in my garden.

18 April 2021

I’ve been watching the Ostrich Ferns unfurl. It stretches out bit by bit. I am watching a being become fully itself.

The Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struhiopteris var. pensylvanica) in my garden sits in a tall black pot. I dug them up last fall. I wanted to make room for containers for growing food. The spot was a bit too sunny for them, anyway. I didn’t think they survived the move. I composted one pot before I realized the plants were still alive and sleeping beneath the soil.

I have a spot for them underneath the Shadbush tree at the end of the garden. The space has dappled shade throughout the spring and summer. It may be a little dry because of the tree, but I’ll keep my eye on it.


Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris var. pensylvanica)
A patch of Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris var. pensylvanica) in my garden.

Stealth Food Gardening

Ostrich Ferns are part of my ‘stealth food gardening’. The stealth plants (usually indigenous and native) I tuck n my garden here and there. Few people know what these plants are, and certainly not that they are edible. The edible spring fronds are called, ‘fiddleheads’. Sautéed, they taste to me like a cross between broccoli and asparagus.

I want a garden that is full of food not just for me but also for the animals that are my neighbors. I don’t even mind when the squirrels dig up something to eat. Stray cats are a different story. I don’t like when they hunt the birds in my garden.



Natural Spirals in Creation



Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris var. pensylvanica) in a pot
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris var. pensylvanica) grwoing in a pot

The Ostrich Fern rises as a long, thick stalk from the soil. As it rises, a spiral of fuzzy little baby leaves is on top.


The fern is truly of this Earth, this universe. The spiral echoes the spirals found in the shell of a garden snail.


Hurricanes Maria and Jose in the Caribbean - Photo by Nasa.gov.
Hurricanes Maria and Jose in the Caribbean – Photo by Nasa.gov.

The eye of a hurricane.


Andromeda Galaxy
Andromeda Galaxy. Photo courtesy of Nasa.gov.

The swirling energy of a distant universe and of our own.


The Path We’re On May be a Spiral

The furling of the spiral frond a bit each day is like watching something being born. The frond unfurls. It embodies growth and progression. It is a plant taking shape. A being opening up to the world, to new experiences, to life.

I pondered my life as a spiral. Not a straight line or path, but an unfurling. How would I perceive my life differently if it was an ‘unfurling’? Would I watch with anticipation as new and unknown events happen?


Ostrich Fern

Even in the natural world, a path is not straight. As you follow a path or trail in the woods, rare is the way straight leading to a clearly seen goal. No, a trail goes up and over, goes around rocks and stumps and trees. A trail narrows where you may have to walk slowly with one foot in front of the other. And then it opens up and you can spread your arms wide.


Ostrich Fern
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris var. pensylvanica)

The Good Red Road, when we imagine it is a straight line? Or is the Red Road a winding, twisting path that leads you to a destination you can’t see.

As we ponder and wring our hands over the destruction and foolishness of humanity, we seem to be headed straight for self-destruction. Perhaps this path we are on is a spiral, unfurling to something new. What if it is a new understanding that ends the nonsense that human beings seem to be so fond of? What if – the path we are on is not a geometric straight line but like the twists and turns of a nature-made trail? If it a spiral, then there is hope.

Ostrich Fern in my garden.
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopters var. pennsyvanica) in my garden in winter.

Growing Ostrich Ferns

Common name: Ostrich Fern

Scientific name: Matteuccia struhiopteris var. pensylvanica

Family name: Dryopteridaceae

Description: Upright feathery fronds with plenty of texture and relaxing green color in the garden.

Native range: Newfoundland to Alaska, south to British Columbia, South Dakota and Virginia. Native to Philadelphia, PA.

Habitat: along swamps and streams

Height: 2 -4 feet high

Width: 3 -6 feet

Light needed: Sun to shade

Moisture: moist to wet

Hardiness zones: 2 – 8

Bloom period: no bloom

Bloom color: no bloom

Growing Tips: Easy to grow. Easy from division. Relatively easy form spores. Can be grown as a houseplant.

Attracts: unknown

Host plant to: unknown


Resources Consulted

Native Ferns, Mosses, and Grasses by William Cullina (Amazon.com affiliate link)

Star, Branch, Spiral, Fan: Learn to Draw from Nature’s Perfect Design Structures by Yellena James (Amazon.com affiliate link)

The Mandala Book: Patterns of the Universe by Lori Bailey Cunningham (Amazon.com affiliate link)


Nature journal page 18 april 2021
Nature journal 18 April 2021 of Ostrich Fern


nature journal page 18 april 2021
Nature journal page 18 April 2021 of Ostrich Fern in my garden.


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  1. A very lovely article, wonderful analogies and thought- provoking.
    We have these in our back yard, planted generations ago by my wife’s grandmother.
    In fact they’ve encroached on my lawn so I’ve taken to transplanting them to other cool and shaded areas around my property.
    I was surprised to see the cover photo was most definitely not an Ostrich fern, but no matter, still a very nice article.

    • Hi, Kevin – Thanks for the comment. I planted the Ostrich ferns as part of my ‘sleath food garden’, providing food from indigenous cultivated plants. They do spread. I double checked the cover photo and I am pretty sure it’s an Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). It is the only fern I’ve planted in my backyard garden. And I bought it from a native plant preserve back in 2013. I wish I had room for more ferns, but limited space means limited choices.

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