Athyrium niponicum var. pictum-Japanese Painted Fern

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum on 6-9-12, Photo #98-41. (Sorry for the blurry photo. Every photo I took of this plant was blurry.)

Japanese Painted Fern

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum

uh-THEE-ree-um  nip-ON-ih-kum  PIK-tum

Syn. Of

Athyrium niponicum

Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit

Synonyms of Athyrium niponicum (16) (Updated on 1-7-21): Anisocampium niponicum (Mett.) Yea C.Liu, W.L.Chiou & M.Kato, Asplenium brevisorum Wall. ex Hook., Asplenium niponicum Mett., Asplenium uropteron Miq., Athyrium biondii Christ, Athyrium brevisorum Bedd., Athyrium fissum Christ, Athyrium matsumurae Christ ex Matsum., Athyrium niponicum var. pachyphlebium (C.Chr.) Kitag., Athyrium niponicum var. pictum (Maxwell) Fraser-Jenk.Athyrium pachyphlebium C.Chr., Athyrium silvestrii Christ, Athyrium uropteron (Miq.) C.Chr., Athyrium yunnanense Christ, Microchlaena yunnanensis (Christ) Ching, Dryopteris yunnanensis (Christ) Copel.

Athyrium niponicum (Mett.) Hance is the correct and accepted scientific name for this species of fern. It was named and described as such by Henry Fletcher Hance in the Journal of the Linnean Society in 1872 (or 1873). It was first named and described as Asplenium niponicum by Georg Heinrich Mettenius in Annales Musei Botanici Lugduno in 1866.

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum (Maxwell) Fraser-Jenk. is now considered a synonym of Athyrium niponicum. It was named and described as such by Christopher Roy Fraser-Jenkins in Fern Gazette in 1982. It was first named Athyrium goeringianum var. pictum by T.C. Max.

EVEN THOUGH the infraspecific name, Athyrium niponicum var. pictum, is not an “accepted” name at the moment, it was validly named and described according to the “rules” of taxonomy. The name signifies that it is a true variation of the species. I choose to use the “variety name” because this plant is a variation of the species. That is legal. 🙂 Besides this is my blog and I can call it what I choose and you can as well. As long as the name you use was validly published.

The genus, Athyrium Roth, was named and described as such by Albrecht Wilhelm Roth in Tentamen Florae Germanicae in 1799.

Plants of the World Online by Kew lists 198 species in the Athyrium genus (as of 1-7-21 when I am updating this page). It is “currently” a member of the plant family Aspleniaceae with 24 genera. Those numbers could change as updates are made.

I lived in Leland, Mississippi when I brought this plant home from Lowe’s in Greenville. The label on the pot said Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’. I suppose, since the “legit” accepted scientific name is Athyrium niponicum, you could give it a cultivar name based on the variety… In fact, there are many cultivar names of the species (or variation) such as  ‘Silver Falls’, ‘Burgundy Lace’, ‘Pewter Lace’, ‘Wildwood Twist’, ‘Red Beauty’ and ‘Ursula’s Red’.

I moved back to the family farm in west-central Missouri in February 2013 but I didn’t bring this plant with me. I really need to bring one home or get one (or more) online. Every photo I took of this plant was blurry no matter how many times I took it. GEEZ!

Once I moved back to Missouri in 2013, I had to change my blog name from the Mystical mansion and Garden to The Belmont Rooster. Basically, I started all over. Then this and that happened and I started the third blog in 2017. Well, all went well until the database I was using, The Plant List, got a little weird because it wasn’t updating. I contacted the editor and the reply I received was from the senior content editor of Kew (Royal Botanical Gardens). That was in 2017… He said The Plant List was no longer maintained, since version 1.1  in 2013 and gave me the link to Kew’s database called Plants of the World Online. When I first wrote this page in October 2017 I found the name for this plant had changed. Talk about a wild goose chase…


According to the 2013 Version of The Plant List, Anisocampium niponicum (Mett.) Y.C. Liu, W.L. Chiou & M. Kato “WAS” the correct and accepted name of the Japanese Painted Fern. It was described as such by Yea Chen Liu, Wen-Lang Chiou and Masahiro Kato in Taxon in 2011…

It was first named Asplenium niponicum Mett. and described by Georg Heinrich Mettenius in Annales Musei Botanici Lugduno in 1866. (The genus Asplenium L. was named and described by Carl von Linnaeus in Species Plantarum in 1753). The name was changed to Athyrium niponicum (Mett.) Hance when Henry Fletcher Hance described it as such in the Journal of the Linnean Society in 1973. Then someone decided it was synonymous with Athyrium brevisorum (Wall.) Bedd. which was indicated in the 2010 version of The Plant List. Of course, the author’s name for that species is different from one database to another but I am not going to get into that…

Apparently, due to a phylogenetic test that was done in 2011, it was discovered the Japanese Painted Fern is actually Anisocampium niponicum (Mett.) Y.C. Liu, W.L. Chiou & M. Kato.

Although the 2013 updated version of The Plant List says that the name of this plant changed to Anisocampium niponicum (which I never even heard of), I thought it was strange no other site changed to that name. SO, I had to check that out. Apparently, based on a phylogenetic analysis done in 2011, they found out this plant’s true history. However, no website is in agreement, not even the Missouri Botanical Garden’s website, which is Tropicos. Tropico’s and many other organizations contributed to The Plant List.

I sent an email to the editors of The Plant List because I noticed a misspelling of another plant. I quizzed them about The Plant List being outdated compared to other websites. I figured I would get no reply as usual, but surprisingly I did. I was told that The Plant List was no longer being maintained. But he did give me a link to a new website called Plants of the World Online which will apparently be maintained by KEW (a division of the Royal Botanical Garden). So, for curiosity, I typed in Anisocampium niponicum. It said “no results”. So, I typed in Athyrium brevisorum. Again it said “no results”. Well, that was in 2017 and this is now January 7, 2021 when I am updating this page for the, ummm, yes it has been three years since I updated this page.

As confusing as it is, the accepted scientific name is still Athyrium niponicum even though phylogenetic testing proved it was actually Anisocampium niponicum in 2011. That just goes to show you even though a DNA test is done it doesn’t mean the name will be accepted. That is a first for me… OH, and how many times has the family changed? Well, when I first wrote this page, the family name had changed to Woodsiaceae. Now, it is in the family Aspleniaceae (with Woodsiaceae one of the 8 synonyms) and some information says it isn’t supposed to be italicized…

Origin: Japan
Family: Currently in the Aspleniaceae
Zones: USDA Zones 4a-9b (one website said zone 3)
Size: 12-18” (+/-) x 12-18”
Soil: Average to rich, moist, well-drained soil.
Light: Part to full shade
Water: Average to moist
Maintenance: Low maintenance. May be trimmed to the ground after frost in the fall.
Uses: Shade garden, beds, borders.
Propagation: May be divided in the spring. Best to wait a few years so the plant can get well established.

I really like ferns and I need to get some. One popped up in the flower bed on the north side of the house in 2020 and I have no idea where it came from…

I hope you enjoyed this page and maybe found it useful. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, I would like to hear from you. Please click on “like” if you visited this page. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. 🙂 You can check out the links below for further reading. The links take you directly to the genus and species of this plant (whatever they choose to call it).


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