Olympic Habitat Development Study
US FOREST SERVICE

 

Station 3 -
Deer Fern
(Blechum spicant)
Family Blechnaceae

This evergreen fern is native to western North America and Europe.  It chiefly grows in moist, shady habitats along the coastal ecosystems. Deer fern is characterized in having two distinctive types of fronds: the fertile and the sterile ones.  The fertile spore-bearings fronds are thin and sprout from the center of the plant reaching 90 cm36 inches tall; the shorter sterile leaves form a circular rosette at the base.  Having two type of fronds has an adaptive value; the vertical fertile leaves will start dying after they have finished their reproductive cycle, and the spores attached to the vertical leaves have a better chance of being easily dispersed. On the other hand, the unfertile rosette would remain “hidden” during winter and protected under the snow.

Honoring its name, this fern is an important winter food for deer and elk on sites with little snow.

The young leaves were chewed by Native Americans as a hunger suppressant and older leaves used for treating skin sores. Its rhizomes were consumed as an emergency food item.


 

Deer fern can be found as individual plants or in large clusters.
rhizomes (root structure) of a deer fern. (Image from wikimedia.org) Deer fern can be found as individual plants or in large clusters. Two kinds of fronds are shown on this deer fern profile.
Deer fern can be found as individual plants or in large clusters.