Common Fern and Fern-Ally Species of the Northwest Forest






Terminology | Pictorial

Athyrium filix-femina
Lady Fern
Polypodiaceae (Polypody Family)

Lady Fern Description

General - Large, clustered, erect to spreading perennial from stout, densely scaly, short rhizomes.

Leaves - narrowly to broadly lance-shaped in outline, 40 - 100 cm long (sometimes to 2 m), tapered at both ends, 2 - 3 times pinnate: 20 - 30 leaflet pairs, alternate, linear-lance-shaped, up to 15 cm long and 4 cm wide; 30 - 60 smaller divisions per leaflet, 1 - 2 cm long, alternate, toothed or again divided; stalks stout, fragile, scaly at base, about 1/3 as long as blade.

Spore Clusters - long and curved, with crescent to kidney shaped indusium, on all leaves.


In moist to wet forested thickets and along streambanks, sometimes in swamps; scattered across Northwetern Ontario's boreal forest north and west to central Yukon and western Alaska; generally south of 55 degrees N in Manitoba; circumpolar.


The large leaves of lady fern were used by native peoples for laying out or covering food, especially drying berries. The fiddleheads were eaten in the early spring when they were 7 - 15 cm tall. They were boiled, baked, or eaten raw with grease. Native peoples used tea made from lady fern roots to stimulate urination, to stop breast pains associated with childbirth, and to stimulate milk production in caked breasts. Tea made from the stems was taken to ease labour. The roots were dried and ground to make a powder that was dusted on sores to aid healing. Oil from the rootstocks of lady fern or male fern. (Dryoperis filix-mas) has been used since the times of Theophrastus and Dioscorides (1st century A.D.) To expel worms from both humans and livestock. A single, strong dose was often sufficient, but if the dose was too large, it could cause muscular weakness, coma and, most frequently, blindness.

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