Polystichum munitum - Sword fern

Family: Dryopteridaceae (Wood Fern family) [E-flora]
Other Names: Western swordfern[E-flora]

Habitat & range: Moist to mesic forests in the lowland and montane zones; common in coastal BC, rare in SC and SE BC south of 54degreeN, rare northward; N to AK and S to SD, MT, ID and CA. [1.3] "...from British Columbia deep into California" [Kozloff PWO]


"Polystichum munitum is an evergreen Fern growing to 1 m (3ft 3in) by 0.3 m (1ft).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 4. It is in leaf 12-Jan.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) or semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers dry or moist soil."[PFAF]

Origin Status: Native [E-flora]

" Evergreen perennial arising from a short, stout rhizome." [IFBC-E-flora]

"Lanceolate, 20-150 cm long, 5-25 cm wide, 1-pinnate; pinnae oblong, all of them more or less in one plane, with spreading teeth." [IFBC-E-flora]

Ecological Indicator "A shade-tolerant/intolerant, submontane to subalpine, Westem North American fern distributed more in the Pacific than the Cordilleran region. Occurs in cool mesothermal climates on nitrogen-rich soils; its occurrence decreases with increasing elevation and continentality. Widespread in forest understories. Persists on cutover sites, sporadic to scattered on water-shedding sites, plentiful to abundant (frequently dominant) on water­receiving and colluvial sites enriched by surface flow of fine organic materials. Commonly associated with Achlys triphylla, Mahonia nervosa, and Tiarella trifoliata. A nitrophytic species characteristic of Moder and Mull humus forms. [1.2]" [IFBC-E-flora]


"Although we have found no reports of toxicity for this species, a number of ferns contain carcinogens so some caution is advisable[200]. Many ferns also contain thiaminase, an enzyme that robs the body of its vitamin B complex. In small quantities this enzyme will do no harm to people eating an adequate diet that is rich in vitamin B, though large quantities can cause severe health problems. The enzyme is destroyed by heat or thorough drying, so cooking the plant will remove the thiaminase[172]." [PFAF]

Edible Uses

"This was not remembered as being a food plant although it did have a name. I include it here as it is cited as a food source for most other people on the Northwest Coast, and because there was some confusion regarding the use of "fern roots" as food. A number of the women remembered eating such foods as children but one woman thought they were gathered only in the mountains above Ketchikan on the mainland. She remembered them being "like sweet potatoes." [Norton KaigHaida]


...regarded as "famine food" [Turner&Kuhnlein] The rhizomes of the sword fern are large and fleshy. According to Anderson (1925) they are pleasant tasting and nutritious when roasted. It is likely that they were used for food by the Island Salish as they were by the Washington Salish (Gunther, 1945). [Turner&Bell]

Other Uses

"The leaves are used for lining boxes, baskets, fruit drying racks etc and as a stuffing material in bedding[99, 118, 257]. A decoction of the rhizome treats dandruff[172]. Plants can be grown as a ground cover and are best spaced about 1 metre apart each way[208]."[PFAF]

Medicinal Uses:

"An infusion of the fronds has been used as a wash or poultice to treat boils and sores[213, 257]. The young shoots have been chewed and eaten as a treatment for cancer of the womb and to treat sore throats and tonsillitis[257]. The leaves have been chewed by women to facilitate childbirth[257]. The sporangia have been crushed and applied as a poultice to burns, sores and boils[213, 257]. A decoction of the rhizomes has been used in the treatment of dandruff[213, 257]."[PFAF] The Songish dried the spores from the backs of the leaves and used the fine powder to cure sores and boils (Boas, 1890). [Turner&Bell]

"Very hardy and easily grown in light shade in any reasonable soil[187]. Prefers a sandy humus-rich soil in a shady position that is moist even in winter[1]. Tolerates part sun for up to 6 hours a day if the soil remains moist[200]. It is possible that the var. imbricans will succeed in drier soils[K]. Prefers a pH in the range 6.5 to 7.5[200]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[233]. A very ornamental plant[1], it is a robust clump-forming species[187]. Remove old fronds from the plant in the spring because they may harbour fungal diseases[200]." [PFAF]


"Spores - best sown as soon as they are ripe, though they can also be sown in the spring. Sow them on the surface of a humus-rich sterilized soil. Keep the compost moist, preferably by putting a plastic bag over the pot. Pot on small clumps of plantlets as soon as they are large enough to handle and keep humid until they are well established. Do not plant outside until the ferns are at least 2 years old and then only in a very well sheltered position. Division. This is best done in the spring." [PFAF]


Polystichum Sp.


"Rhizome generally suberect to erect, often stout." [Jepson]

Local Species;

  1. Polystichum andersonii - Anderson's hollyfern [E-flora]
  2. Polystichum braunii - Braun's hollyfern [E-flora]
  3. Polystichum imbricans - Narrow-leaved sword fern [E-flora]
  4. Polystichum lonchitis - Northern holly fern [E-flora]
  5. Polystichum munitum - Sword fern [E-flora][TSFTK]
  6. Polystichum setigerum - Alaska holly fern [E-flora]


Page last modified on Sunday, July 14, 2019 11:10 PM