Georgia Gardener Newsletter Cool Plant: January 10, 2008

Arborvitae Fern
Selaginella braunii

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Native Range: China
Hardiness: USDA Zones 6-9
Mature Size: 12 inches tall x 18 inches wide
Exposure: Partial to full shade
Soil: Moist with lots of organic matter
Drought Tolerance: Good
Ease of Culture: Easy

Don't let the name of this plant deceive you, for it is not a fern at all. This primitive plant is referred to as a fern ally and is actually a club moss more closely related to the native running pine or creeping cedar often seen in the woods. It is estimated that this group of plants has been around for more than 300 million years!

The evergreen foliage of the arborvitae fern is a lovely bright green and for gardening purposes is grown like a fern in the same environment. Although delicate in appearance, arborvitae fern is incredibly durable and can withstand heat and some drought although it may look a bit tattered in hot, dry weather. Once cooler weather and rain return, it will rebound to its former beauty. From personal experience, I have found that this plant does not like being covered by mulch or leaves, so remove these frequently in the fall. Prune unattractive foliage in the early spring just before new growth begins.

Plant arborvitae fern in a woodland setting, shady rock garden or near a pond in a location protected from harsh sunlight. It can also be grown year round in containers. It makes a wonderful companion to other shade plants such as hostas, foam flowers, hellebores, other ferns and variegated solomon's seal.


This plant is readily available from many retail nurseries. It is often found with the shade perennials or ferns.

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