Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina)

Sweet Fern

  • Important Native Shrub
  • Very Low Maintenance Once Established
  • Glossy Green Foliage
  • Fern-Like Leaves
  • Sweet Smell When Leaves Are Crushed
  • Butterfly Caterpillar Host Plant
  • Wonderful, Shaggy Texture
  • Showy Catkins Give Winter Interest
  • Great for Naturalizing
  • Erosion Control
  • Salt Tolerant
  • Drought Tolerant
  • Deer Tend to Leave Them Alone

One of the hottest native shrubs around is the aromatic Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina). People are discovering their useful nature, fun texture and importance as a butterfly host plant.

It’s hard to find an easier plant. Give them a little room to fill in and let them do their thing to cover bare ground in a beautiful way. Get ready to see Io and Sphinx moths, and those gorgeous Anise Swallowtail butterflies and caterpillars!

Sweet Fern looks like a Dr. Suess plant, with unique, large leaves that resemble ferns. Crushed, their sweet, resinous fragrance adds a fantastic layer to your landscape.

These plants are not true Ferns. Rather, they are a member of the Bayberry family, which is where their luscious, fragrant foliage comes from.

People are raving about their use as an herb, and the shrubs make a good addition to a Wild Garden or Permaculture. They will fix nitrogen in the soil.

Use them along the edge of a mixed shrub border, and allow them to spill over the edge of the bed. You’ll love the scent as you brush past them.

Sweet Fern brings a lot of texture to your yard. From the notched edges of the leaves, to the lenticels on the bark, to the puffy catkins held in bunches during early spring, you’ll always have something to look at.

From creative lavish roadside or parking lot plantings in the middle of the city, to flourishing in a sandy spot in full sun, to filling in along the edges of a country Rain Garden; Sweet Fern is tough enough to handle just about anything.

That includes bitter cold. These plants are tough stuff, and can even be grown in frigid Zone 2.

How to Use Sweet Fern in the Landscape

There is something very modern about the look of Sweet Fern. Move over Monstera or Fiddle-Leaf Fig, Sweet Leaf looks ready to become the next big Instagram plant star. We predict you’ll start seeing a lot more of this native plant.

It stays compact in terms of height, but spreads out wide. Use them as a single species planting in a tough site. You’ll luxuriate in their lush appeal.

Create a mass planting on a slope or wide, open area. Plant 2 to 3 feet apart on center, measuring from the center of one plant to the center of the next. They’ll fill in rapidly to give you a unique, memorable landscape.

On a slope or embankment, pair with other spreading plants, such as Sumacs and Mountain Mint, to boost biodiversity and control erosion. Why mow turf on a steep site, when you can simply enjoy the buzz of a happy ecosystem?

Edge your mixed shrub border with several stands of Sweet Fern. Or, use it as a contrasting backdrop for flowering perennials in a Butterfly Garden.

Use the at the edge of Rain Gardens. Run them along the length of a sidewalk, or create a special, low-maintenance Patio planting. Enjoy these beautiful, easy-care plants!

Tips for Care

Sweet Fern is quite adaptable. It can grow well in full sun or part shade. It is drought tolerant, but can handle occasionally wet spots, too.

No need to amend the soil, unless your soil is very alkaline. Ideally, it prefers sandy, acidic loam. It will tolerate neutral pH, but will need acidifying soil treatments if your soil pH is above 7.

Site it carefully to allow room to spread to the full width. These plants create charming colonies, and that requires ample space. They will not appreciate being moved or transplanted.

Sweet Fern is an important larval host plant for both moths and butterflies. It works hard in any landscape. And you can feel great about selecting this lush, native option

Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) Details

Common name Sweet Fern
Botanical name Comptonia peregrina
Hardiness zone 2-6
Growth rate Medium
Height 2 - 5 ft.
Width 4 - 8 ft.
Sunlight Full Sun, Partial Shade
Moisture Medium
Soil condition Well Drained
Pollinator-friendly Yes
Leaf color Deciduous