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Western Sword Fern

(Polystichum munitum)

Physical Characteristics: Evergreen fern with erect leaves forming a crown from a stout, woody, scaly continue underground stem. Lance shaped leaves that grow erect to arching. Leaflets growing pinnately alternate with shape incurved spine tips. Growing up to 1.5 meter tall while smaller in the north.

Habitat: Moist forests at low to mid elevations.

Range: Pacific Coast from southeastern Alaska to Baja, California, with disjunct populations in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, northwestern Montana, northeastern Oregon, and the west Kootenays in British Columbia.

Reproduction: Mainly by spores that disperse away from parent plants and that spores usually cross with other spores rather than self-fertilize. Vegetative reproduction is limited it can regenerate from rhizomes after top-kill but does not spread vegetatively.

Threats: Not much is known on why sword fern is in a decline but many scientists believe that climate change is bringing more disease that once weren’t in this area.

Miscellaneous: Used by Northwest coast people as a protective layer in traditional pit ovens, used as a layer between food in storage boxes, used for baskets, and as bedding and flooring. The underground stems were dug up and used for food, they roasted or steamed them and then peeled before eating. Used in a children game where you would have to see how many leaflets you could pull off in a single breathe while saying “pala.”

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