What Is a “Flowering Fern?”

Want a plant that blooms in late spring and early summer that isn’t ordinarily seen in most flower beds or landscapes? Try a “Flowering fern” as an attention getter!

Hardy gloxinia, (Incarvillea delavayi), aka "Flowering fern"

Hardy gloxinia, (Incarvillea delavayi), A.K.A “Flowering fern.” Photo credit: The Garden Helper

If you categorize flowering ferns with pigs flying, you’re in the right direction as ferns don’t “flower” in the traditional sense. However, if someone described the foliage as “fern-like”, that would be accurate.

Intrigued? I was on first hearing of the plant, especially as the person describing it created a delightful picture in my mind. A little reading in books and online sites revealed the truth; it IS attractive; a perennial in the Bignoniaceae family that may offer a bit of challenge for gardeners in the southeast with our hot/humid summers.

Also known as Hardy gloxinia, Incarvillea delavayi is native to Asia, with large, trumpet-shaped rosy purple flowers on 12-24” stalks, and described by some as pleasantly fragrant. Attractive to bees, butterflies and birds, it is suitable for containers or borders and beds. While needing sun, Hardy gloxinia will appreciate light shade during our summer afternoons.

Introduced to Europe in the mid-1800s by two Jesuit missionaries, the plant known as Chinese Trumpet flower was popular in English gardens for many years before falling out of favor with gardeners.

For 21st century gardens, additional blooms can be encouraged by deadheading after the first flush, offering an opportunity for more passersby to stop and inquire about that unusual “flowering fern!”

By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Contact Sallie at leesall@aces.edu.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.  Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Alabama Extension

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities and answers home-gardeners' questions each week on Birmingham Gardening Today.

10 thoughts on “What Is a “Flowering Fern?”

  1. I purchased a Super-Sak of 20 flowering ferns from Breck’s and the bulbs just arrived. I wasn’t sure how to plant so the lady at Breck’s said to plant them horizontally and 1 inch deep. Hope this helps others 🙂

  2. When I received my flowering fern, I could not tell root end from top. I planted then on their side, will they come up like this?

    • I am not sure I know what a flowering fern is as the common names can vary even with in our metro area. But in general turning a dormant plant on it side to plant is ok as long as it is not planted deep. Since I do not know the plant, that is strictly an assumption.

      • Hardy Gloxinia is a tough plant and is grown from a bulb if you can find them. Usually you see them in a package bulb displays in big box stores. The like part sun and good fertile soil. Once established they are very drought hardy. Just be sure not to plant the bulb below where the foliage is going to appear.

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