Winter white ferns

We may not have a typical white winter wonderland here in the coast redwood forest, but we do have spectacular displays of white leaves that appear this time of year. Half of the fern species that live in the coast redwood forest are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves for part of the year and regrow them in the spring.

Albino Fern
A fading bracken fern leaf glows white against the green leaves of sword fern at Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Deciduous ferns, like bracken and lady fern, absorb the nutrients from their leaves before shedding them. The foliage turns a snowy white as the nutrients are absorbed underground by the fern stems. It’s a transient sight, as before long the white leaves will curl up and die.

Most times of year it can be difficult to tell which species are deciduous and which are evergreen, but walk through the woods now and you’ll see the tell-tale signs of deciduous ferns and their showy winter display.

Winter White Fern
Lady fern leaves turn the Opal Creek bank white in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Learn more about white leaves, read Tom Stapleton’s perspective on albino redwoods.

About the author

Emily Burns, the League’s former Director of Science, led the research program that includes the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. She holds a PhD in Integrative Biology on the impacts of fog on coast redwood forest flora from the University of California, Berkeley.

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2 Responses to “Winter white ferns”

  1. Kim Winter

    This is really interesting – I live in London, UK, and had never seen this until yesterday! I was visiting some gardens in southern England and spotted a white fern that looked just like the one in your photo. When I googled it, your post is the only one that came up that was relevant (the others were about mildew).

    When I posted a photo on social media, most people commenting had never seen anything like this either, although we have plenty of bracken and other deciduous ferns in the UK. Do you think it requires specific conditions for the leaves to turn white like this?

    • Save The Redwoods League

      Hi Kim, so glad you were able to find some helpful info about these white winter ferns. The species of fern are deciduous so that means every year they will lose their leaves, just like deciduous trees annually change color and lose their leaves each autumn. It doesn’t matter the conditions usually. It just happens in the fall months.


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