Osmundastrum cinnamomeum (L.) C. Presl
Wet pine flatwoods (WPF-T), wet pine savannas (SPS-T, SPS-RF, WLPS, VWLPS).
Frequent. Mar–May . Thornhill 201, 223, 255 (NCSC). Specimens seen in the vicinity: Sandy Run [Hancock]: Taggart SARU 75 (WNC!); Sandy Run [Neck]: Wilbur 67806 (DUKE!; as Osmunda cinnamomea ). [= Osmunda cinnamomea L. sensu RAB, FNA; = Weakley]
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Cinnamon fern occurs in North America from Newfoundland to western
Ontario and south to the Gulf States and New Mexico. It also occurs in
eastern Asia [7,22].
Occurrence in North America
ME MD MA MI MN MS NH NJ NM NY
NC OH PA RI SC TN TX VT VA WV
WI NB NF NS ON PE PQ
Cinnamon fern is a perennial fern which is native to the eastern United
States. Rhizomes of sporophytic plants are stout, woody , and
creeping  to suberect ; the roots are fibrous . Sporophytes
have separate fertile and sterile pinnate fronds are covered with thick
hairs when immature. Some hairs are still present on fertile fronds at
maturity . Sterile fronds are up to 6 feet (1.8 m) long  and 6
to 12 inches (15-30 cm)  wide. Fertile fronds are shorter than
sterile fronds, and the pinnae are much smaller, nonphotosynthetic, and
cinnamon brown. Sporangia are clustered, naked, large, globose, and
bivalved . Cinnamon fern spores are green, with functional
chloroplasts. The spores germinate into photosynthetic, platelike,
thalloid gametophytes [23,42].
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Cinnamon fern is found on poorly drained low ground and in thickets, wet
marshy woods , swamps, ditches, and streambanks . It is
generally found in ombrotrophic bogs , but it also grows on
minerotrophic wooded island hummocks in peatlands . It is usually
associated with sphagnum (Sphagnum spp.)  in wet acid soils with
high organic content [28,46,55]; it is an indicator of such soils in the
Haut-Saint-Laurent region, Quebec . Where humidity is very high
cinnamon fern can sometimes be found on better drained soils .
Cinnamon fern has been reported at the following elevations:
Elevation (feet) Elevation (m)
Florida 125-141 38-43 
Louisiana 197-276 60-84 
Maryland 0-51 0-16 
New York 210-3,124 64-952 
North Carolina 39-2,917 12-889 [28,60,64]
South Carolina 45-75 14-23 
West Virginia 1,096-2,625 334-800 [6,39]
Ontario 581 177 
Key Plant Community Associations
Cinnamon fern is listed as a habitat type or indicator species in:
Freshwater Wetlands: A guide to common indicator plants of the northeast 
Application of forest habitat-type classification system in Michigan and
Species associated with cinnamon fern are listed for bogs in
northeastern Illinois , southern New Hampshire , North Carolina
[28,46,53,61], Louisiana [2,36], and eastern Texas ; peatlands in
northcentral Minnesota ; Florida gulf coast hydric hammocks ,
cypress heads [16,45], and bayheads ; pocosins in several states ;
South Carolina wet longleaf pine savannahs ; and an eastern hemlock
(Tsuga canadensis)-fern community with mesic soil and high humidity in
northeastern West Virginia .
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
More info for the terms: hardwood, swamp
12 Black spruce
13 Black spruce - tamarack
17 Pin cherry
18 Paper birch
19 Gray birch - red maple
20 White pine - northern red oak - red maple
21 Eastern white pine
22 White pine - hemlock
23 Eastern hemlock
24 Hemlock - yellow birch
37 Northern white-cedar
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
70 Longleaf pine
74 Cabbage palmetto
80 Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
97 Atlantic white-cedar
98 Pond pine
104 Sweetbay - swamp tupelo - redbay
108 Red maple
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
More info for the term: bog
K073 Northern cordgrass prairie
K079 Palmetto prairie
K091 Cypress savanna
K093 Great Lakes spruce - fir forest
K094 Conifer bog
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K096 Northeastern spruce - fir forest
K097 Southeastern spruce - fir forest
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K102 Beech - maple forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K107 Northern hardwoods - fir forest
K108 Northern hardwoods - spruce forest
K110 Northeastern oak - pine forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES11 Spruce - fir
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
FRES19 Aspen - birch
FRES41 Wet grasslands
Fire Management Considerations
Cinnamon fern survives fires in many habitat types and may increase in
cover . However, if the fire is so intense or of such duration that
it burns the organic substrate completely, cinnamon fern will be lost .
Cinnamon fern occurs on hillside seepage bogs in longleaf pine savannah
of east-central Texas that is burned every 3 to 5 years during the
nongrowing season to maintain savannah vegetation .
Cinnamon fern in bayheads of south Florida may survive wet-season fires,
but drought-season fires can destroy them by burning out the islands .
Cinnamon fern occurs in North Carolina Coastal Plain shrub bog
communities that become grass (Poaceae)-sedge (Cyperaceae) bogs when
In northeastern Minnesota the summer moisture content of 21 groups of
understory plants was evaluated for fire prediction purposes from June
24, 1976 (after the period of primary plant growth) to August 26, 1976.
Ferns, including cinnamon fern, were evaluated as a group. Fern
moisture was approximately in the middle range when compared to other
Broad-scale Impacts of Plant Response to Fire
Cinnamon fern usually increases slightly in response to fire.
Cinnamon fern in an eastern white pine (Pinus strobus)-mixed hardwood
forest in New Hampshire was subjected to October 1976 and April 1977
prescribed fires. Cinnamon fern occurred throughout the forest in moist
pockets and depressions. Fires were of low severity, with flames 10 to
18 inches (25.4-45.7 cm) high and scorch heights 4 to 6 feet (1.2-1.8
m). Cinnamon fern increased in cover and importance value after the
fall fire, but not after the spring fire or on control plots. Cinnamon
fern also occurred sporadically in adjacent eastern white pine forest
plots that were burned at the same times. Fire severity was less, with
flames 4 to 6 inches (10.2-15.2 cm) high and scorch heights 3 to 4 feet
(0.9-1.2 m). Cinnamon fern was listed as neutral in response to fire on
these sites .
Plant Response to Fire
Cinnamon fern appears to be well adapted to recurring fires. It
occurred in a west Louisiana bog that was burned on a regular basis
during the winter . It also occurred in a southern Mississippi peat
bog burned annually for 7 years . Cinnamon fern occurs in North
Carolina Coastal Plain longleaf pine-wiregrass savannahs that are fire
maintained. The savannahs have fire intervals typically less than 8
years . Cinnamon fern in the wetter areas of a virgin longleaf pine
forest in southwestern Georgia increased greatly over 27 years of annual
burning. In this area cinnamon fern disappears within about 5 years in
the absence of fire, due in part to competition from shrubs and young
Cinnamon fern occurred on a fire barren in southwestern Nova Scotia that
had burned 2 years before. It was thought to be a component of the
prefire vegetation that survived the fire .
Cinnamon fern occurs in both burned and unburned tree islands in the
Florida Everglades, but is much more abundant on unburned islands. Fire
on these islands tends to burn out the peat substrate during periods of
Immediate Effect of Fire
Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed
Although fronds are probably killed by fire during the growing season,
cinnamon fern sprouts from rhizomes after the aerial portions are burned
[49,53]. Cinnamon fern has good fire tolerance and shows vigorous
rhizome growth after fire . Spores germinate on mineral soil ,
so cinnamon fern probably colonizes after fire. It grows in the open
conditions created by fire in at least part of its range [20,36,60].
Cinnamon fern occurs in the Greater Sandhills of south-central North
Carolina in Atlantic white-cedar dominated wetland corridors. The trees
in these wetlands show evidence of past fires . Cinnamon fern
occurs in the Green Swamp, North Carolina, longleaf pine/wiregrass
savannahs which are maintained by frequent fire . It also occurs in
fire-maintained South Carolina longleaf pine savannahs .
More info for the terms: bog, fern, natural, shrubs
Facultative Seral Species
Cinnamon fern is considered a late seral species in the bog seres of the
northern United States and Laurentian Canada, but may not persist to
climax stages . In the Adirondack upland flora cinnamon fern is
intolerant to midtolerant of shade . Cinnamon fern in west
Louisiana occurs in bogs that are mostly open, with a few scattered
trees and shrubs . However, cinnamon fern occurs in heavy shade
under a closed canopy along the Gulf Coast of Florida . It also
occurs under shade in Atlantic white-cedar wetlands in New Jersey 
and in baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) swamps in eastern Maryland .
Cinnamon fern in a southern Ontario bog was subjected to disturbance by
peat mining which removed all vegetation and up to 6.6 feet (2 m) of
peat. The mined areas had been abandoned to natural, unassisted
regeneration for 1, 6, 10, and 24 years. Cinnamon fern occurred in all
disturbance classes, but did not occur in the undisturbed control site
Cinnamon fern spores have very short viability after release from the
sporophyte. They either fail to germinate or germinate poorly after
just a few weeks . Under controlled conditions, spores germinate at
high percentages at 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 deg C), and they also
germinate at higher temperatures .
One study showed that cinnamon fern sporophytes allelopathically
inhibited germination of cinnamon fern spores . Another study did
not demonstrate this effect .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Life History and Behavior
More info for the terms: fern, fronds, stipe
Both sterile and fertile cinnamon fern fronds expand during a short
period in early spring [32,37]. Leaf expansion is complete within about
a month. Fertile fronds begin to wither in early summer, after
sporulation is completed . Sterile pinnae begin to wither at the
end of summer, and the stipe somewhat later, until the entire aerial
part of the plant is dry . Cinnamon fern spores are discharged in
spring. They can germinate within 1 or 2 days of release .
Cinnamon fern sporulates from March through July, depending on latitude
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Osmundastrum cinnamomeum var. fokiense
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Osmundastrum cinnamomeum var. fokiense
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
Barcode data: Osmundastrum cinnamomeum
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Osmundastrum cinnamomeum
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Osmunda cinnamomea
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Cattle grazed cinnamon fern in southeastern North Carolina, but because
of the short time it was utilized, grazing had relatively little effect
on the total fern stand. In places where grazing was heavy, the density
and vigor of cinnamon fern was noticeably reduced. Cinnamon fern was
more abundant on unlogged than on logged sites, in both grazed and
ungrazed conditions .
Cinnamon fern in southeastern Connecticut was an associate in lowland
hardwood and shrub communities subjected to 20 years of herbicide use on
trees to maintain shrubs. Cinnamon fern cover was 1 to 5 percent both
before herbicide treatment began in 1953 and after 20 years of treatment .
Cinnamon fern in Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) wetlands
in New Jersey occurred in sites of all disturbance classes studied
including undisturbed sites, those in housing developments, and those at
stormwater drain outfalls .
Cinnamon fern in eastern Quebec was present in a northern hardwoods site
that was clearcut and subjected to three experimental disturbance
treatments: prepared with a V-blade (high intensity), prepared with a
toothed brush rake (medium intensity), or disked (low intensity).
Cinnamon fern was more common on the low-disturbance site but survived
on other sites .
Cinnamon fern in naturally regenerated, mature slash pine (Pinus
elliottii) flatwoods in southeastern Florida was present at 1.3
kilograms per hectare foliage biomass. The site was then clearcut in
the fall of 1978, prepared by burning, shearing and piling, discing and
bedding, and planted to slash pine in 1979. In two subsequent
vegetation surveys in the summers of 1980 and 1981, cinnamon fern was
not present .
Cinnamon fern frequently forms large clumps  and may produce almost
all the understory cover in swamps with dense overstory shade .
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Other uses and values
Cinnamon fern coiled fiddlehead leaves up to 8 inches (20 cm) tall can
be collected in the spring, steamed or boiled, and eaten .
Cinnamon fern spore germination in liquid medium is useful for bioassay
of toxic copper, cadmium, and zinc concentrations .
Cinnamon fern was grazed by cattle in southeastern North Carolina in
pond pine (Pinus rigida var. serotina) forests. It ranked second only
to cane (Arundinaria gigantea) in cattle preference. In May, before
cane fully leafed out, 30 to 50 percent of available cinnamon fern
herbage was utilized, after which fern utilization practically ceased.
Cinnamon fern was palatable for about a month after fronds unrolled .
White-tailed deer were observed grazing substantial amounts of cinnamon
fern in southwestern Virginia in 1982 .
Osmundastrum cinnamomeum, the cinnamon fern, is a species of leptosporangiate fern in the family Osmundaceae. It is native to the Americas and eastern Asia, growing in swamps, bogs and moist woodlands.
In North America it occurs from southern Labrador west to Ontario, and south through the eastern United States to eastern Mexico and the West Indies; in South America it occurs west to Peru and south to Paraguay. In Asia it occurs from southeastern Siberia south through Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan to Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
Osmundastrum cinnamomeum is a deciduous herbaceous plant which produces separate fertile and sterile fronds. The sterile fronds are spreading, 30-150 cm (1-5 ft) tall and 15-20 cm (6-8 in) broad, pinnate, with pinnae 5-10 cm (2-4 in) long and 2-2.5 cm (.75-1 in) broad, deeply lobed (so the fronds are nearly, but not quite, bipinnate). The fertile spore-bearing fronds are erect and shorter, 20-45 cm (8-17.75 in) tall; they become cinnamon-colored, which gives the species its name. The fertile leaves appear first; their green color slowly becomes brown as the season progresses and the spores are dropped. The spore-bearing stems persist after the sterile fronds are killed by frost, until the next season. The spores must develop within a few weeks or fail.
The Osmundastrum cinnamomeum fern forms huge clonal colonies in swampy areas. These ferns form massive rootstocks with densely matted, wiry roots. This root mass is an excellent substrate for many epiphytal plants. They are often harvested as osmunda fiber and used horticulturally, especially in propagating and growing orchids. Cinnamon Ferns do not actually produce cinnamon; they are named for the color of the fertile fronds.
Traditionally, this plant has been classified as Osmunda cinnamomea L.. However, recent genetic and morphological evidence (Metzgar et al. 2008; Jud et al. 2008) clearly demonstrate that the cinnamon fern is a sister species to the entire rest of the living Osmundaceae. Cladistically, it is either necessary then to include all species of the Osmundaceae, including Todea and Leptopteris in the genus Osmunda, or else it is necessary to segregate the genus Osmundastrum. O. cinnamomeum is the sole living species in the genus, although it is possible that some additional fossils should be assigned to Osmundastrum.
Formerly, some authors included the interrupted fern, Osmunda claytoniana, in the genus or section Osmundastrum, because of its gross apparent morphological similarities. However, detailed morphology and genetic analysis have proven that the interrupted fern is actually a true Osmunda. This is borne out by the fact that it is known to hybridize with the American royal fern, Osmunda spectabilis to produce Osmunda × ruggii in a family in which hybrids are rare, while Osmundastrum cinnamomeum has no known hybrids.
Osmundastrum cinnamomeum is considered a living fossil because it has been identified in the geologic record as far back as 75 million years ago. A more recent discovery extends this value up to 180 million years ago.
The Asian and American populations of cinnamon fern are generally considered to be varieties of a single species, but some botanists classify them as separate species. The Asian taxon is thus named Osmundastrum asiaticum.
- Alan S. Weakley (April 2008). "Flora of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia, and Surrounding Areas".
- Jud, Nathan, Gar W. Rothwell, and Ruth A. Stockey (2008). "Todea from the Lower Cretaceous of western North America: implications for the phylogeny, systematics, and evolution of modern Osmundaceae". American Journal of Botany 95 (3): 330–339. doi:10.3732/ajb.95.3.330. PMID 21632358.
- 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.
- Serbet, Rudolf, and Gar W. Rothwell (1999). "Osmunda cinnamomea (Osmundaceae) in the Upper Cretaceous of western North America: Additional evidence for exceptional species longevity among filicalean ferns." International Journal of Plant Sciences, 160: 425-433.
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: now considered as Osmundastrum cinnamomeum (Linnaeus) C. Presl.
The currently accepted scientific name of cinnamon fern is Osmunda
cinnamomea L. It is in the family Osmundaceae [7,26]. Recognized
subspecies, varieties, and form are as follows:
O. c. ssp. asiatica (Fern.) Hulten (found in eastern Asia) 
O. c. var. cinnamomea [22,52]
O. c. var. glandulosa Waters [9,18,52]
O. c. forma frondosa (T. & G.) Britt. [7,49,52,62]
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