Osmunda regalis

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Osmunda regalis
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Division: Polypodiophyta
Class: Polypodiopsida
Order: Osmundales
Family: Osmundaceae
Genus: Osmunda
O. regalis
Binomial name
Osmunda regalis

Osmunda regalis, or royal fern,[2] is a species of deciduous fern, native to Europe, Africa and Asia, growing in woodland bogs and on the banks of streams. The species is sometimes known as flowering fern due to the appearance of its fertile fronds.[citation needed]


The name Osmunda possibly derives from Osmunder, a Saxon name for the god Thor.[3] The name "royal fern" derives from its being one of the largest and most imposing European ferns. The name has been qualified as "old world royal fern" in some American literature to distinguish it from the closely related American royal fern, O. spectabilis. However this terminology is not found in British literature.[4]


Osmunda regalis produces separate fertile and sterile fronds. The sterile fronds are spreading, 60–160 cm (24–63 in) tall and 30–40 cm (12–16 in) broad, bipinnate, with 7-9 pairs of pinnae up to 30 cm (12 in) long, each pinna with 7-13 pairs of pinnules 2.5-6.5 cm long and 1–2 cm broad. The fertile fronds are erect and shorter, 20–50 cm tall, usually with 2-3 pairs of sterile pinnae at the base, and 7-14 pairs of fertile pinnae above bearing the densely clustered sporangia.

In many areas, O. regalis has become rare as a result of wetland drainage for agriculture.


The oldest known fossils of Osmunda date to the Paleocene, Osmunda likely derives from fossil species currently assigned to Claytosmunda.[5]


Closeup of sterile frond

There are three to four varieties as traditionally construed:

  • Osmunda regalis var. regalis. Europe, Africa, southwest Asia. Sterile fronds to 160 cm tall.
  • Osmunda regalis var. panigrahiana R.D.Dixit. Southern Asia (India).
  • Osmunda regalis var. brasiliensis (Hook. & Grev.) Pic. Serm. Tropical regions of Central and South America; treated as a synonym of var. spectabilis by some authors.
  • Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis (Willdenow) A.Gray. Eastern North America. Sterile fronds to 100 cm tall. Now accepted as a separate species, Osmunda spectabilis.

Similar species[edit]

There are three very similar species, Osmunda spectabilis, Osmunda lancea and Osmunda japonica. Recent genetic analysis (Metzgar et al., 2008) has shown that the New World varieties are in a clade that is sister to the Old World varieties of Osmunda regalis. If this is true, then O. lancea and O. japonica should either be regarded as varieties of O. regalis, or, conversely, O. regalis var. spectabilis should be regarded as a separate species, Osmunda spectabilis Willdenow. The var. brasiliensis would then be Osmunda spectabilis Willdenow var. brasiliensis Hooker & Greville.


Osmunda regalis is widely cultivated in temperate regions. The species[6] and the cultivar 'Cristata'[7] have both gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[8] Osmunda plants should be planted in preferably acidic, moist soil, associating well with other large moisture-loving plants such as Rodgersia and Gunnera. However, it tolerates a range of soil and climatic conditions.[9]

Other uses[edit]

The roots, along with those of other species of Osmunda, are used for the production of osmunda fibre, used as a growing medium for cultivated orchids and other epiphytic plants.

According to Slavic mythology, the sporangia, called "Perun's flowers", have assorted magical powers, such as giving their holders the ability to defeat demons, fulfill wishes, unlock secrets, and understand the language of trees. However, collecting the sporangia is a difficult and frightening process. In earlier traditions, they must be collected on Kupala Night; later, after the arrival of Christianity, the date is changed to Easter eve. Either way, the person wanting to collect Perun's flowers must stand within a circle drawn around the plant and withstand the taunting or threats of demons.[citation needed]

The young shoots of the fern are, along with the similar shoots of many other fern species, known in some places as fiddleheads, and eaten as food, thought to have an asparagus-like taste.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Matchutadze, I. (2014). "Osmunda regalis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2014: e.T164368A63306495. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2014-2.RLTS.T164368A63306495.en. Retrieved 13 November 2021.
  2. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  3. ^ Coombes, Allen J. (2012). The A to Z of plant names. USA: Timber Press. p. 312. ISBN 9781604691962.
  4. ^ RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 978-1405332965.
  5. ^ Bomfleur, Benjamin; Grimm, Guido W.; McLoughlin, Stephen (2017-07-11). "The fossil Osmundales (Royal Ferns)—a phylogenetic network analysis, revised taxonomy, and evolutionary classification of anatomically preserved trunks and rhizomes". PeerJ. 5: e3433. doi:10.7717/peerj.3433. ISSN 2167-8359.
  6. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Osmunda regalis". Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  7. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Osmunda regalis 'Cristata'". Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  8. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 70. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  9. ^ "Osmunda regalis". BBC Gardeners’ World Magazzine. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  • Hyde, H. A., Wade, A. E., & Harrison, S. G. (1978). Welsh Ferns. National Museum of Wales.
  • Metzgar, Jordan S., Judith E. Skog, Elizabeth A. Zimmer, and Kathleen M. Pryer (2008). "The Paraphyly of Osmunda is Confirmed by Phylogenetic Analyses of Seven Plastid Loci." Systematic Botany, 33(1): pp. 31–36

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