The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Ferns of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

Goldies Fern index

Common Name
Goldie's Wood Fern (Giant Wood Fern, Goldie's Fern)


Scientific Name
Dryopteris goldiana (Hook. ex Goldie) A.Gray


Plant Family
Wood Fern Family (Dryopteridaceae)

Garden Location
Woodland - marsh


Prime Season
Spring to Autumn


Fern terms


Shape: Goldie's Wood Fern is a large conspicuous fern of moist forests and slopes; it is one of the largest of the wood ferns with upright arching oval to triangular pinnate-pinnatifid fronds growing 3 to 4 feet tall.

Fronds: Fronds are bright green with a paler green edge when young, giving a two-tone effect. The blades abruptly taper to the tip and bear 12+/- pairs of pinnae. There is no visual difference between the fronds that have fertile sori and those that may not. There are no aromatic glands. The central rachis is green with pale tan scales. The grooved stipe is quite long, forming 1/3 the length of the frond. The scales of the stipe are distinctive, being broad, tan brown with a dark center.

Pinnae: The pinnae are lance-shaped, broad in the middle and pointed at the tip with the basal pinnae up to 8 inches long, and arranged alternately on the rachis. The division pattern is pinnate-pinnatifid and sometime bi-pinnate near the base.

Pinnules: There will be 18+/- pairs of pinnules on the pinnae with rounded tips that are forward pointing. Margins of the pinnules are slightly toothed where the vein approaches the margin.

Fertility: The sori are evenly spaced on the back of the pinnule near the mid-vein, multiple rows on the longer pinnules and down to 1 row on the smallest pinnules. They are rounded with a kidney shaped indusia covering them.

Fiddleheads have the same glossy dark scales that the stipe maintains during the growing season.


Habitat: Goldie's Wood Fern grows from a short rhizome in moist rich soil, neural to acidic, in partial to full shade. Because the plant is long-lived the clump can be difficult to move. Offshoots from the rhizome can form dense colonies over time.

Names: Goldie's Wood Fern is named for its discover, John Goldie, Scottish botanist (1793-1886) who collected the plant on a trip to North America, returning to Scotland with samples in 1819. The genus name Dryopteris, is derived from two Greek words, drys, meaning 'tree', and pteris, meaning 'fern'. Many members of this genus are commonly referred to as "wood" ferns and hence the name. The species, goldiana, is as referred to above - named for John Goldie. The author names for the plant classification are more complex: The first to publish information was ‘Hook.’ who is William Hooker, (1785-1865), English Botanist, author, collector, Professor of Botany at the University of Glasgow and the first director of the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew. His work was not complete and was amended by John Goldie (referred to above), but the most complete classification is now assigned to ‘A.Gray’ who is Asa Gray (1810-1888), American botanist, Professor of Natural History at Harvard and instrumental in unifying plant knowledge of North America and author of Gray’s Manual - Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, from New England to Wisconsin and South to Ohio and Pennsylvania Inclusive.

Comparisons: There are many wood ferns. Other members of the Wood Fern Family found in the Garden are Spinulose Woodfern, Dryopteris carthusiana; Marginal Wood Fern, Dryopteris marginalis; and Crested Wood Fern, Dryopteris cristata. Formerly in the Garden was Male Fern, Dryopteris filix-mas;. The key to Goldie's is 1) no aromatic glands, 2) blades pinnate-pinnatifid, 3) scales broad to narrow, not hairy, 4) scales tan-brown with a dark center, 5) sori close to the mid-vein, 6) blade large, ovate, arching back, tapers abruptly to the tip.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Goldies Fern\ Goldies Fern young frond

Above: 1st photo - The tall arching form of Goldie's Wood Fern. Note the stipe is about 1/3 the total height of the frond. 2nd photo - A young developing frond showing wide alternate spacing of the pinnae.

group of plants

Below: Fiddlehead development. 2nd photo - The scales will remain on the stipe through the season. 3rd photo - Detail showing the tan brown scale parts with darker centers.

Goldies Fern Fiddlehead Goldies Fern Fiddleheads Goldies Fern fiddlehead scales

Below- the sori: 1st photo - The sori arranged on the mid-vein of the pinnae, more rows on the larger pinna and down to one on the smallest. Note also the abrupt taper of the frond to the tip. 2nd photo - The sori are covered with this whitish kidney shaped indusium. 3rd photo - Mature sori where the indusium has deteriorated and the spores are being released.

Goldies Fern fertile frond Goldies Fern Sori Goldies fern old sori

Below: The separated pinnae create the first "pinnate" division. The pinnules on each pinna are not cut all the way down to the costa of the pinna making the second division "pinnatifid" and thus the entire frond "pinnate-pinnatifid." Note the residual pale tan scales on the rachis.

Goldies Fern Pinnae


Notes: Goldie's Wood Fern is not indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler introduced it when she brought in 6 plants on May 5, 1916 from Gillett's Nursery of Southwick Mass. and then 6 more from them in 1918. Curator Martha Crone planted 6 of them on Oct. 2nd 1936 but did not list her source. She planted 13 in 1957 when she was developing the Fern Glen. These were sourced from The Three Laurels, in Marshall NC. As recently as 2006, Curator Susan Wilkins planted another 6. The range of the fern in North America is the eastern half, excepting the gulf coast states of the U.S. Minnesota and Ontario are on the western edge of the range. Within Minnesota the plant is rare.

Rarity: Goldie's Wood Fern is rare enough in the wild that it is listed on the Minnesota DNR "Special Concern" list. According to the MN DNR surveys it is known only from 12 counties: Beltrami, Blue Earth, Cass, Fillmore, Goodhue, Hennepin, Houston, Itasca, Olmsted, Wabasha, Washington and Winona. Ten species of the genus Dryopteris are found in Minnesota.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.