Sweet fern

Prepared by Jennifer L. D’Appollonio, Assistant Scientist, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469. March 2011.

Scientific name: Comptonia peregrina (L.) J.M. Coult.; also Myrica aspleniifolia L.

Common name(s): sweet fern, sweet-fern

Links: USDA PLANTS Profile, NPIN Profile, Go Botany

Images: (to see enlargements [PC]: click on image, then right click and choose “view image”)


-Myricaceae family

– perennial shrub

-Woody shrub up to 3′ tall

-erect or spreading branches

Leaves and stems covered with hairs

  • Leaves are alternate
  • linear 3″-6″ long
  • deeply lobed

-Leaves and stems fragrant when crushed

– flowers April-May.

-flower produces brown catkins in April before leaves begin to develop in May



-rocky soils

-partial-full sun


-mulching can be effective in blueberry fields for preventive methods

-weed whacking or clipping at least three times a season to eliminate sun competition

-USDA recommends the following chemicals for effective suppression

  • Picloram
  • Diacamba
  • -2,4-D

Natural History:

-used by Native Americans as a astringent and to treat fever, toothaches, rashes



medical herbs. “Medicinal HerbsSweet FernComptonia Peregrina.” Medicinal Herbs: SWEET FERN – Comptonia Peregrina, Plants for a Future, www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/c/comptonia-peregrina=sweet-fern.php.