I love ferns. They delight me deeply. However, ferns and south central Kansas don't really go together, at least not without a major input of water and/or very, very special and protected conditions. I'm not willing to provide the first and I don't have the second, but I can still have some ferny components to my gardens by utilizing a few other plants that are hardy (and native) here.
One of my favorite ferny plants is red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). To tell the truth, I've never actually heard this species called red columbine, but that's what the USDA site says the official common name is. I just usually call it native columbine...which, of course, creates problems because there are many other native columbine species out there! So, I'll see if I can't start getting used to the official common name.
native to the east half of the United States and Canada and it grows well in shade. It is a short lived perennial, but reseeds pleasantly, so there are usually young plants coming on as the older individuals fade away. Red columbine is a touch unusual in that it blooms a soft red with yellow highlights at a time of year when it seems like most other flowers are blooming blue and white and pink, but somehow red columbine just seems to work almost anywhere you plant it.
I don't have any personal photos of leaf miners on columbine (did I mention that this hasn't really been a problem for me?), but here is a photo of leaf miners on an unknown plant in the draw, several years ago....
Oh, by the way, leaf mining is a characteristic strategy of several different types of generally tiny insects, ranging from wasps to flies to beetles to moths to sawflies. Columbine leaf miners are tiny flies. I have no idea what insect was causing the leaf miner tunnels on the leaves in the photo above....
This is a recommendation that is not for the faint of heart...or the heat intolerant, probably. Spanish needles (Bidens bipinnata) is usually considered a weed, and I totally understand why. It's an annual native plant with absolutely gorgeous young foliage. It is native across much of the United States. The flowers are bright yellow, but insignificant, and they rapidly turn to seeds that are...vicious in their desire to hitch a ride to a new location.
If you decide that you, too, enjoy these little guys, you'll want to leave a couple in unobtrusive places so they can go ahead and go to seed. Just don't leave them to go to seed anywhere that you or your dogs walk past, or you'll be picking the seeds out of fur and jeans and socks for several weeks.
There is absolutely nothing common about common yarrow, in my opinion. The leaves of the basal rosette, which overwinters, are the closest thing to ferns that I have in my yard. In fact, they almost outfern real ferns. And they are tough as nails.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's Native Plant Database. They state that the A. millefolium that is considered native in North America is actually "...a complex of both native and introduced plants and their hybrids."
Here is common yarrow intermixed with spiderwort....
Catclaw Sensitive Briar:
As a child, do you remember touching mimosa leaves and watching in amazement as they folded close in response? I do. I thought that was just amazing. Well, we have a prairie mimosa that does the same thing and, to boot, it has the most gorgeous little miniature, bright pink pom-pom flowers that you could ever want. Catclaw sensitive briar (Mimosa nuttallii, a.k.a. Mimosa quadrivalvis var. nuttallii) is native to the central portion of our country. It's a vine with small prickles on its stems - hence the name "briar" in the name - that can trail 2-4', but the plants never gets more than about 12" high.
I don't currently have catclaw sensitive briar in my gardens, but I do have a couple plants on the property. I think it would make an interesting addition to an informal bed as a "stitcher", winding throughout the other plants and providing some unity throughout the bed(s). If you have grandchildren, now or in your future, I think this is a plant that would really catch their attention, based on my childhood memories. Has anyone ever used catclaw sensitive briar in their garden? If so, I'd love to hear how it worked out for you.
For the moment, this wraps up my suggestions for bold, fine, and ferny textures in the prairie garden. I'm sure that I will find more species to share with you over the years. Gardening sure keeps us learning and changing, doesn't it?!