Western Sword Fern

Western Sword Fern, Chuck Pezeshki Photo Credit

(Polystichum munitum)

Physical Characteristics: Evergreen fern with erect, lance-shaped leaves, forming a crown emanating from a stout, woody, scaly underground stem. Leaflets alternate with incurved spine tips. Grows to 1.5 meter tall.

Habitat: Moist forests at low to mid elevations.

Range: Pacific Coast from southeastern Alaska to Mexico, with disjunct populations in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, northwestern Montana, northeastern Oregon, and the west Kootenays in British Columbia. Found in parts of N. Fork Clearwater, Lochsa River and other parts of Clearwater Basin.

Reproduction: Mainly by spores that disperse away from parent plants. Usually cross with other spores rather than self-fertilize. Vegetative reproduction is limited. It can regenerate from rhizomes after top-kill.

Threats: Not much known why sword fern is in decline but many scientists believe climate change is introducing new diseases to range.

Miscellaneous: Used by northwest First Nations as protective layer in traditional pit ovens and between food in storage boxes. Utilized as baskets, bedding and flooring. Traditionally toasted or steamed and peeled before eating.

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