Osmundastrum cinnamomeum - (Linnaeus) C. Presley
The Cinnamon Fern has changed little over the past hundred million years. The fossil record suggests that cinnamon fern is a 'living fossil.' Recent research has established that the fern is sufficiently different from other Osmunda species, so that it has been renamed and moved into a new genus, Osmundastrum, which means 'similar to Osmunda.'
Cinammon Fern is a deciduous herbaceous plant that produces separate fertile and sterile fronds. The sterile fronds are spreading, and are known to reach heights up to 5 feet and 8-10 inches broad, with leaflets up to 4 inches long. The fronds are deeply lobed, which makes them nearly, but not quite, bipinnate (sub-divided). Its preferred habitat is swamps, marshes, and wet woods.
The fertile spore-bearing fronds are erect and shorter than the sterile, becoming 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. During its short life span the spores must develop within a few weeks or fail.
The plant forms huge colonies in swampy areas from a massive rootstock with densely matted, wiry roots. The root mass is an excellent substrate for many epiphytal plants.
The plant leaves are often harvested as horticultural fiber, especially in propagating and growing orchids. Cinnamon Ferns do not actually produce cinnamon; they are named for the color of the fertile fronds.