Sword Fern – Polypodiales Polypodiaceae Polystichum munitum

Identification & Description:
If you have ever ventured into the forests of the Pacific Northwest, then you have surely seen the magnificent sword fern. It is so common throughout the forests in its range, that if there is a tree overhead, chances are there is a sword fern nearby. Often they share the shady forest floor with mosses and groundcovers, but sometimes you will find them creating a thick, rich carpet all by themselves. Instead of displaying flowers or colorful fall foliage, the sword fern offers a lush and grand landscape full of texture and color year-round. A single sword fern can provide a sophisticated accent to a shady Japanese garden, or several of them, alone or combined with other woodland plants, can bring the northwest forest to your own corner of the world.

The sword fern is a beautiful and long-lived evergreen fern that can become four feet tall and seven or eight feet wide in ideal conditions. However, it is more likely to grow to two or three feet tall and four to six feet wide. In a mature plant, as many as 100 dark-green, lance-shaped fronds may grow from the rhizome at the plant’s center. In early spring, the young fronds, or fiddleheads, appear and begin to slowly unroll. Each frond may reach four to six feet long and will live for several years. The fronds are comprised of many simple, alternate leaflets, or pinnae. These leaflets are finely serrated and have clusters of brown spore cases, called sori, on their undersides.

When fully shaded, the sword fern will take on a wonderful spreading nature as the fronds arch outward from the central clump. In a sunnier position, the plant is more upright with shorter, erect fronds and almost overlapping leaflets. The structure of a young sword fern is like that of a mature plant, but they have a more crinkly appearance.

Physical Characteristics
An evergreen fern growing to 1m by 0.3m . It is hardy to zone 4. It is in leaf all year. We rate it 1 out of 5 for usefulness.

The plant prefers light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) or semi-shade (light woodland). It requires dry or moist soil.

The sword fern can be found growing along the western coast of North America from the Yukon Territory and southeastern Alaska south to Santa Barbara County, California and east through Washington and northern Idaho into northwest Montana. It grows between sea level and mid-elevation. Outside of this area, two separate populations of sword ferns have been found, one in South Dakota and the other on Guadalupe Island, off Baja California.

Edible Uses
Root – roasted. Peeled and then baked like potatoes. The roots were generally viewed by the native North American Indians mainly as a famine food for use when little else was available. The roots were generally harvested in the spring, before the plant came into growth then cooked and peeled before being eaten.

Other Uses
Ground cover; Hair; Lining.
The leaves are used for lining boxes, baskets, fruit drying racks etc and as a stuffing material in bedding.

A decoction of the rhizome treats dandruff.

Plants can be grown as a ground cover and are best spaced about 1 metre apart each way.

Cultivation details
Very hardy and easily grown in light shade in any reasonable soil. Prefers a sandy humus-rich soil in a shady position that is moist even in winter. Tolerates part sun for up to 6 hours a day if the soil remains moist. It is possible that the var. imbricans will succeed in drier soils. Prefers a pH in the range 6.5 to 7.5.

Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer

A very ornamental plant, it is a robust clump-forming species.

Remove old fronds from the plant in the spring because they may harbour fungal diseases.