Stenochlaena tenuifolia, commonly known as African climbing fern, is native to tropical Africa. The plant features feathery looking fronds with star-shaped leaflets. The stem of the plant is long and thin, allowing it to climb while its short-creeping rhizomes and powerful root systems create a dense groundcover. The fern often reaches heights of two feet and can even climb as high as twenty feet.
African climbing fern is extremely adaptable and is able to tolerate both full sun or deep to moderate shade. It does prefer humid climates and grows best in USDA zones 9-11. The fern has a high water requirement, meaning it requires regular water to thrive.
The plant has been traditionally foraged for edible fiddleheads and its numerous ethnomedical uses. The leaves are thought to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor healing properties. The fiddleheads are a popular delicacy in numerous African countries and can be boiled, steamed, fried or added to curries and soups. The mature fronds of the plant can also be eaten, though they are tough and fibrous.
African climbing fern prefers to grow in a pot in cold regions and can be easily propagated by division of the rhizomes. The plant not only adds visual interest to the garden with its beautiful, feathery foliage but will also reward with edible fruits which ripen over summer and autumn. The fruits are rich in essential oils, vitamins, trace elements and acids and have a slightly sweet and acidic flavor. Fruit size can vary from seed to seed but are usually around 5-10mm in diameter and can provide a plentiful bounty of up to 2,000 fruits from a single plant once it is established.