Western Sword Fern

Western Sword Fern, Chuck Pezeshki Photo Credit

(Polystichum munitum)

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

Habitat: Moist forests at low – mid elevations.

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

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

Threats: Not understood why sword fern in decline but some scientists believe climate change introducing new disease(s) to fern’s range.

Miscellaneous: Used by Northwest First Nations as protective layer in traditional pit ovens/between food in storage boxes. Also utilized as baskets, bedding and flooring. Traditionally toasted/steamed and peeled for eating.

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