Sweetfern (comptonia) is a native plant that grows wild in much of the US and Canada. It is really not a fern, but a member of the bayberry family. A few years ago we transferred four straggly little plants we found in a scrubby area to a place at our new house and they filled in quickly. These are low growing deciduous shrubs that tolerate sandy, almost barren, soil; require almost no maintenance; and can colonize tough sites and push out non-native invasive plants. A native plant will grow so much more easily than a non-native, which may explain why planting with native plants is a trend in garden and landscape design.
The blueberry barrens in Maine have an abundance of Sweetfern and its fragrance becomes part of the blueberries’ aroma profile. We have seen Sweetfern used at Acadia National Park as part of their landscape design. When heated by the sun or crushed or brushed by the hand, it gives a juniper meets pine meets delicious rosemary resiny scent that is to me the very scent of Summer.
Native Americans used this plant for medicine and to line baskets when collecting delicate berries. It can be use as tea for digestive distress and can be ground and used as a seasoning.
Please consider using this overlooked native plant in your yard for its great texture, for its ease in growing and of course for that gorgeous scent of Summer.
If you’re inclined to try and cook with it, Edible Brooklyn has great information the use of sweetfern in cooking.