While this plant resembles a fern, and is commonly known as Sweet fern, it is actually a low-growing deciduous shrub!
The “sweet” part is accurate in that it lets off a pleasing aroma when the leaves are crushed. This hardy little shrub is excellent for areas with poor soil, especially along roadsides and in hellstrips. Also excellent for erosion control on sloped land, the Sweetfern can handle full sun to part shade.
Interstingly, Comptonia peregrina is able to handle poor soil quality due to its ability to fix its own nitrogen, and is often one of the first plants to colonize a disturbed area.
Use: The young fruits can be eaten fresh. The catkins (flowers) can infuse alcohol with a unique flavor. In late spring, the leaves are tender and edible. Although there are recipes for sweet fern tea, it is described as "palatable".
Photos courtesy of Dan Wilder
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Comptonia peregrina (Sweet fern)
SIZE: 1 gallon pot type: shrub sun needs: full sun, part sun/part shade water needs: average to moist soil height: 2-5' plant spacing: 3' distance bloom time: April, May, June bloom color: Golden, tan, green
good plant companions
Serviceberry, or pagoda dogwood, prairie dropseed, bee balm, sky blue aster
edible parts: the young fruit, and the leaves can be used for tea or seasoning. salt tolerant. Some salt exposure should not be fatal to the plant but some leaf burning may still occur. deer resistant (please note that does not mean deer proof)