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


Asplenium niponicum

Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum (Maxwell) Fraser-Jenk. is the correct and accepted scientific name for the Japanese Painted Fern. It was named and described as such by Christopher Roy Fraser-Jenkins in Fern Gazette in 1982. It was previously named Athyrium goeringianum var. pictum by T.C. Maxwell.

It is plants like this beautiful Japanese Painted Fern that keep me interested in taxonomy research. Some names take twists and turns like a good suspenseful whodunit movie. I deleted several paragraphs outlining the name changes (which included disagreements of authors names) just since 2013. I don’t want to sound like I am making fun of the botanists and taxonomists who work very hard to name plants and have been working to sort out all the confusion. Most “normal” people have no interest in plant taxonomy and just enjoy growing them in their gardens and beds. Well, I am not exactly normal nor am I saying that botanists and taxonomists aren’t normal. GEEZ! I better stop before I get in trouble.

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.

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 contribute 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 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”. I guess for now I will leave it as Athyrium niponicum var. pictum.

I bought my Athyrium niponicum var. pictum from Lowe’s in Greenville, Mississippi in 2012. The label said Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’. Come to find out, “pictum” is an accepted variety name not a cultivar. There are several cultivars of Athyrium niponicum var. pictum including ‘Silver Falls’, ‘Burgundy Lace’, ‘Pewter Lace’, ‘Wildwood Twist’, ‘Red Beauty’ and ‘Ursula’s Red’.

Origin: Japan
Family: Currently in the Woodsiaceae Family
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 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.


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