Polystichum munitum sword fern

Plant Data Sheet

Species (common name, Latin name)

Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)


Polystichum munitum, is distributed over a large area. It is abundant and common in continuous populations in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, and Alaska

Climate, elevation

Climate: Moist forest.

Elevation: Western sword fern grows from sea level to mid-elevations in the mountains throughout its range. Its elevational limit in Montana is 3,000 feet (914 m). In California it is usually found below 2,500 feet (762 m). In coastal Oregon it is found below 1,700 feet (518 m).

Local occurrence (where, how common)

Very common in Western Washington.

Habitat preferences

Moist coniferous forests.

Plant strategy type/successional stage (stress-tolerator, competitor, weedy/colonizer, seral, late successional)

Facultative Seral Species

Associated species

Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Black cottonwood

May be collected as: (seed, layered, divisions, etc.)

Sword ferns can be collected by dividing the clump and rhizome. They can also be propagated by spores.

Collection restrictions or guidelines


Sword ferns may be divided in spring if the rhizome is large and the roots are well developed.

Propagation: Collect the spores when mature, usually from July to late August. An easy way to collect the spores is to shake the fronds in a paper bag so the spores are contained when released from the fronds (Hansen, 2003).

Seed germination (needs dormancy breaking?)

No dormancy breaking requirements.

Seed life (can be stored, short shelf-life, long shelf-life)

Spore viability highly variable, usually low after 1 year.

Recommended seed storage conditions

Store spores in glassine envelopes or in packets or waxed paper. Store packets in 1-4 degrees C, in moisture-tight and air tight containers. . Spore viability varies among fern species from just a few days to several years.

Propagation recommendations (plant seeds, vegetative parts, cuttings, etc.) Sprinkle the spores onto a bed of moistened peat moss, cover with plastic and place in a shady, but not completely dark, location with a temperature between 59 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not let the container dry out, but do not let mold grow in it either. Wipe away condensation to help prevent this.

After several weeks, flat heart-shaped discs, called gametophytes, will appear. Mist with water if they appear dry and be sure to keep them moist. A few weeks later, tiny fern fronds will sprout from the gametophyte, which will eventually wither and die as the fern establishes itself independently. The ferns can be transplanted to individual containers a few weeks after the fronds appear, but take care as they are very fragile (Hansen, 2003).

Soil or medium requirements (inoculum necessary?)

Humus-rich, moist soil, with pH 6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic). No inoculum necessary.

Installation form (form, potential for successful outcomes, cost)

Commonly obtained through salvage. The best form of installation is from divided material. Plants grown from spores should be 1.5-2 years old before planting to ensure survival.

Recommended planting density

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)

Care requirements after installed (water weekly, water once etc.)

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater. Soil pH 6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic).

Normal rate of growth or spread; lifespan

Fast growing/ spreading

Sources cited

1. Holloway, Dr. Patricia S., “Tips on Collecting, Processing, and Storing Fern Spores” Georgeson Botanical Notes, No. 17. University of Alaska Fairbanks, April 1994.

2. http://dforthof.best.vwh.net/HenryCowell/wild.cgi/polystichum_munitum.

3. http://bss.sfsu.edu/geog/bholzman/courses/Fall00Projects/swordfern.html.

4. Jones, David L., 1987. Encyclopedia of Ferns. Portland, Oregon. Timber Press.

5. Kruckeberg, A.R. Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest (1982).

6. Pojar, J. and MacKinnon, A. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Lone Pine Publishing, Redmond, WA. 1994.

Data compiled by (student name and date)

Nick Ostrovsky 4/13/05


Tough and easy to grow, these are the most widely used of all ferns. Where winters are cold, they’re popular houseplants, benefiting from well-drained soil, frequent misting, and monthly applications of a general-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer from spring through fall. In frost-free areas, they make splendid ground covers for shady areas. Not usually browsed by deer.

giant sword fern

nephrolepis biserrata

  • Native to the tropical Marquesas islands, this species is known primarily for the selection ‘Macho’.
  • Arching fronds grow 3 4 feet long and 67 inches wide, making a plant 56 feet wide.
  • Bright shade or morning sun is ideal.
  • Often grown as a summer annual.
  • Container plants fill their pots quickly; daily watering is necessary.

southern sword fern

nephrolepis cordifolia

  • Native to many tropical regions of the world.
  • To 23 feet tall, 5 feet wide.
  • Tufts of bright green, narrow (2 inches-wide), upright fronds with closely spaced, finely toothed leaflets.
  • Roots often have small, roundish tubers.
  • Plant spreads by thin, fuzzy runners and can be inva- sive.
  • Will not take hard frosts but is otherwise adaptable, tolerating poor soil and erratic watering.
  • Good in narrow, shaded beds; can thrive in full sun with adequate water.
  • Good in pots and hanging baskets.
  • Often sold as Nephrolepis exaltata.
  • Lemon Buttons grows to 1 feet tall and wide with short, rounded leaflets, making the frond only an inch wide.
  • It’s named for its scent, not its color.

sword fern

nephrolepis exaltata

  • Like Nephrolepis cordifolia, this is a tropical species, but it grows larger (to 7 feet high and as wide) and has broader fronds (to 6in.
  • wide).
  • Most common are named selections grown as houseplants.
  • Best known is ‘Bostoniensis’, Boston fern.
  • Growing about 3 feet high, it is the classic parlor fern, with spreading, arching habit and graceful, eventually drooping fronds broader than those of the species.
  • Among the many forms with more finely cut and feathery fronds are ‘Fluffy Ruffles’, ‘Rooseveltii’, and ‘Whitmanii’.
  • Ritas Gold’ has 18- to 24 inches fronds of bright lime-green, demanding shade but giving the illusion of light wherever it is grows.

nephrolepis obliterata

  • From northwestern Australia.
  • Grows to 3412 feet high and wide.
  • Similar to Nephrolepis cordifolia but has darker green, somewhat narrower fronds.
  • Used mainly as a houseplant.
  • Habit is stiffer and more erect than that of Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’, and plant is more tolerant of low humidity and both high and low light conditions.
  • Selections include ‘Kimberly Queen’ and ‘Western Queen’.
  • Medusa grows about half the size of the species, with compact fronds that tend to curve, creating the illusion of tangled hair.

1500 Western SWORD FERN Giant Holly Swordfern Polystichum Munitum Aspidium Solitarium Spores Seeds

NAME: Sword Fern
OTHER COMMON NAMES: Giant Holly Fern / Western Swordfern
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Polystichum Munitum syn. Aspidium Munitum / Polystichum Solitarium
COLOR: Green Foliage
PLANT SEEDS: Outdoors after frost / Best started indoors in containers
BLOOM TIME: N/A (Non Flowering)
LIGHT REQUIREMENTS: Shade – Part Shade / Sun ok with moist soil
QUANTITY: 1500 Seeds (Spores)
OTHER: The Sword Fern is an iconic western US plant that is native to western North America from Canada down to Mexico.
Have you ever been watching something on tv where the characters are strolling through a west coast forest, & plot be darned, all you could do was stare at the lush foliage in the background until you realize that you are nearly dehydrated from drooling so much over the backdrop? – Those are sword ferns, & now you can grow your very own! 🙂
Sword Ferns feature dark green flossy evergreen foliage that is finely serrated. Their sword shaped (pointed / narrower at the tip) fronds measure 2 – 6’ long, & their leaves grow in a perfectly symmetrical pattern. They are a popular addition to floral arrangements, both fresh & dried. Sword Ferns have traditional medicinal uses, & they’ve even earned a Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
Sword Ferns are a long-lived plant in general, & individual fronds can even live for several years. These deer resistant plants will form colonies where conditions are favorable. They grow well in maritime conditions (salt spray, sand, & wind), can tolerate some drought, & will grow in a variety of soils. Sword Ferns grow very well in full shade, but unlike many ferns, can also be grown in a sunny location as long as they receive enough moisture. The plants tend to have more of an upright habit when they are grown in the sun, & a more arching habit when grown in shade. The Sword Fern grows in clumps, & can grow much wider than 18 – 24” in the right conditions. They can easily reach up to 4 – 6 feet across, & in ideal conditions as much as 7 – 8 feet wide.
Just a heads up – Fern spores are extremely tiny. Like ‘the size of dust’ tiny. There is no need to let this deter you though! (Unless you’re just gonna write me later to tell me that you’re mad about their size lol.) We have lovingly packaged these seeds to set you up for success. Your fern spores will come in a cute little folded waxed paper square inside their poly zipper bag for easy removal & handling. You can simply sprinkle them on top of your growing medium directly from the waxed paper. An alternative method is to mix the spores with dry sand to distribute them over a larger area. Of course detailed sowing instructions are included on the packaging so you will have them at hand.
* We have Sensitive Fern spores available in our store too! Drop by & check ‘em out! *

Sword Fern Plant Care: How To Grow Sword Ferns

While they are most commonly found growing in moist, wooded areas, sword ferns are quickly becoming popular in the home garden as well. These interesting plants are easy to grow with sword fern care being just as simple.

All About Sword Ferns

The sword fern (Polystichum munitum) plant is a lush evergreen ground cover known for its bright green, sword-shaped fronds. You’ll find the young fronds, or fiddleheads, appearing in early spring from their underground rhizomes with most plants eventually reaching 4 to 6 feet long.

In addition to spreading through rhizomes, sword ferns will also reproduce via spores that are found along the backside of the fronds. These spores appear as brown spots, which are clustered together in groups.

How to Grow Sword Ferns

Learning how to grow sword ferns will be easier if you know how you want to use them in the landscape. Although most people prefer to grow them for ornamental purposes, they have other uses too. For instance, sword ferns make excellent ground cover plants. When planted on hillsides, they can be useful in preventing erosion. They work well with other perennial plantings as well, especially when used as understory plants.

Sword ferns perform best in moist shady conditions. However, as long as there is good drainage, the sword fern can easily adapt to a number of soil conditions. They can even thrive in sun when given plenty of moisture.

Sword ferns transplant easily in the garden. And while some people may be lucky enough to have these plants growing naturally on their property already, there are various cultivars available through nurseries.

Planting takes place in spring, as soon as the ground can be worked. The hole should be about twice as large as the root ball and it often helps to mix in some compost and other organic matter as well.

Sword Fern Care

Once established in the garden, caring for sword ferns is easy. They are drought resistant and usually don’t require much in the way of water, except during the first year after planting when they should be kept evenly moist.

Sword fern plants will keep their foliage throughout winter and can be trimmed back in spring, if desired, though it’s usually better to only cut off dead foliage. Plants can also be divided in spring and transplanted to other areas of the garden.

In addition to their graceful appearance, ease of planting and caring for sword ferns makes them great choices for the landscape. So for those looking to add interest and texture to the garden or fill in open areas, the sword fern plant may be just what the plant doctor ordered.

Note: When acquiring this plant, make sure that you are getting Polystichum munitum. There are several varieties of ferns that are commonly called Sword Ferns and some can be very invasive in some climates.

J. from West Seattle writes:

“I have a slope behind my West Seattle house covered with large, old sword ferns. The ferns are all flattened and sad-looking, I am assuming because of the severe snowfall this winter. Do you have any advice? I going out to look for new fronds. If they don’t exist, is the plant dying? Thank-you, a fern lover “

J, thanks for your question. I, too, adore ferns. I know many who disparage the sword fern as common, but I admire it for many reasons including:

  • Evergreen
  • Native
  • Low Maintenance
  • Tolerates all sorts of exposure from full baking sun to deep shady forests
  • Adds interesting Texture and form to the garden
  • Helps hold slopes

But, this time of year, particularly after rough winters like we had, it can be tough to know if our poor sword ferns made it through. My regular regime with my many sword fern is to go out in the garden in late winter/early spring and remove all of the existing foliage from them. Yep, I cut it all off, leaving just the tight brown fists of yet-to-unfurl fronds at the base of the plant.

I make these cuts in early spring so I can enjoy the evergreen fronds all winter. Also, the overwintering fronds help protect the tight “fists” of new fiddleheads from winter weather. These will emerge by mid-to-late-April (in the greater Seattle area). Too, but cutting everything off of the plants each year, I never end up with an ugly mixture of dead, partially dead and lovely new fronds mixed into each plant. And, cutting them before the fists open and the fiddleheads emerge mean I’m much less likely to damage the new, tender fronds as they unfurl. I usually spread the cuttings around the fiddlehead fists to add an extra protective layer of green mulch in case of cold temps and to keep weeds down. When they turn brown as temperatures increase, I remove them to the compost pile.

So, are your sword ferns dead? I doubt it…or at least I doubt all of them are dead. Most sword ferns I’ve seen this year survived just fine. They’re a little late to unfurl, but do you blame them in this wintery spring weather?

As you’re exploring your plants, cut the old fronds away. If you have brown fists held tightly and firmly in the ground, you should see new ferns unfurl soon. Heck, as you’re cutting back the older growth, I bet you even find a few fists loosening up now.

Thanks again for writing in!

Sword Fern

Sword Fern – Polystychum munitum For Sale Affordable, Grower Direct Prices Tennessee Wholesale Nursery

sword fern, also known as Polystichum munitum, is one of the most plentiful ferns native to North America. The sword fern is typically found growing in moist wooded areas. Sword ferns are also a favorite plant to grow around the home. Sword ferns are generally easy to grow and care for. The sword fern is a ground covering plant that is lush and bright green in appearance. Sword ferns get their name from their sword-shaped fronds. The sword fern begins to grow in the early spring and mature to size from four to six feet in length. Sword ferns grow in the United States Department of Agriculture zones three through eight. The sword fern can tolerate hot weather and thrive in dry soil. A sword fern in its mature state can grow 75 to 100 fronds that are leathery in appearance. Sword ferns grow best in shady and moist environments. The sword fern can adapt and thrive in several different soil conditions, but require adequate drainage. Sword ferns are also able to tolerate full sun if they are given sufficient levels of water. The sword fern is easily transplanted into gardens. Planting of sword ferns should take place in the early spring.

Buy Sword Ferns

The hole for planting a sword fern should be double the size of the root. The soil should be prepared for planting sword ferns by mixing organic matter and compost in with the ground. After the sword fern is planted, it is straightforward to care for. The sword fern is resistant to droughts and does not require large amounts of water if they are given adequate shade. The sword fern will continue to grow through the winter months and should be trimmed in spring. Sword ferns can be divided and transplanted to other areas around the garden in the spring.

Affordable Sword Ferns For Every Landscape

Sword Fern

The sword fern has been growing increasingly popular in home gardens recently due to its hearty nature, simple care, lush evergreen beauty, and versatility.

Hearty Nature

Sword fern grows well in a variety of situations, including a wide range of soil and sun conditions. Native to the wooded pacific northwest, it appreciates shady and partly shady moist areas. However, it also tolerates drought conditions well, and it can thrive in sunny areas if kept wet. It is rated as hardy in USDA zones 3-8.

Simple Care

Once established, sword fern requires no watering under most circumstances. Care and upkeep are minimal if any.

Lush Evergreen Beauty

The sword fern’s bright green foliage remains lush and lovely throughout the winter. Multiple sword-shaped fronds form a graceful sweeping mound, approximately three feet in diameter, height and width. Mature plants may reach a six-foot diameter. Each frond, known as a fiddlehead, grows out of the center of the plant, reaching up to six feet in length on mature specimens. Dozens of leaflets, numbering up to a hundred, grow out along its stipe (spine). Young fronds unfurl from the center of the fern each spring as they grow in their distinct and delightful manner.

Very Versatile

The sword fern is a versatile plant that thrives in a variety of situations. It makes an interesting ground cover and an effective measure against erosion. It makes a lovely addition nestled between trees or filling in the open areas in a garden with its distinctive texture and shape.

Sword Ferns

Sword Ferns are easily one of the most popular indoor plants on the market

With bright green leaves that grow in a tight clump spreading from the base, and a pleasing symmetrical shape, this evergreen fills all sorts of spots quite nicely, and its leaves are favorite additions to flower arrangements.

Sword Ferns are low maintenance and can grow happily in pots

It enjoys dampness, shade, and humidity but does beautifully in a hanging planter with some misting and partial light. But it is equally happy outside, making a great addition to informal gardens. It is a terrible plant that does very well in shady woodland areas but thrives in full sun as long as it is watered well.

Sword Ferns are an excellent choice for line paths, adding some color to rocky hills, or accenting water features

It also does nicely for mixed borders, serving as a contrasting backdrop for flowering perennials. Grown in groups, they provide dramatically lush fillers for delicate areas. Sword Ferns get their name from their sword-like leaves which are triangular and pointed. This plant is very fast growing and can reach 3 ft in a short amount of time. This plant prefers top well-drained soil to thrive very well. They also unlike most ferns are susceptible to over-watering. They look great in hanging baskets and flower pots around the house. They also have beautiful dark green leaves in the summer.

Sword Ferns

Western Sword Fern The Wood Fern Family–Dryopteridaceae

Polystichum munitum (Kaulf.) C. Presl

(Pol-ee-STIK-um mew-NEE-tum)

Names: Polystichum means many rows, referring to the arrangement of the spore cases on the undersides of the fronds. Munitum means armed with teeth, referring to its toothed fronds. Western Sword Fern is also known as Sword Holly Fern, Giant Holly Fern, Christmas Fern, Pineland Sword Fern, or Chamisso’s Shield Fern.

Relationships: There are about 260 species of Polystichum worldwide with about 16 native to North America; and about 10 native to the Pacific Northwest.

Distribution of Western Sword Fern from USDA Plants Database

Distribution: Western Sword Fern is found from southeast Alaska to the central California coast, mostly on the west of the Cascades; eastward to northern Idaho into northwest Montana. Disjunct populations have been found in South Dakota and on Guadalupe Island off Baja California.

Growth: Western Sword Fern grows up to 4.5 feet (1.5m) tall.

Habitat: It is usually found in moist forests, but it is probably the most adaptable of all our ferns and can take a bit more sun than other ferns and some dry periods. Wetland designation: FACU, it usually occurs in non-wetlands but occasionally is found in wetlands.

Sword Fern is very common in the understory in our westside forests.

Diagnostic Characters: Large, erect fronds form from a crown of scaly rhizomes. Fronds are once-pinnate with alternate pointed, sharp-toothed leaflets; each leaflet with a small lobe pointed forward at the base. Sori (spore cases) are large and round arranged in two rows on the undersides of the fronds halfway between the midvein and margins.

In the Landscape: Western Sword Fern is the most widespread and versatile of all our native ferns. Although at home in woodlands, it often adapts to drier, sunnier sites in landscapes. Its tall arching fronds are most impressive planted in drifts in a woodland garden. When grown in the sun, the fronds are dwarfed and more erect; and have pinnae (leaflets) that are crisped and crowded so that they overlap and appear overlapping. Young ferns are also more frilly-looking.

Phenology: Fronds partially unroll their “fiddleheads” by late May; by late July the spores are near maturity.

Sword Fern Fiddleheads.

Use by natives: The roots/rhizomes were generally viewed by natives as a famine food. (This plant probably should only be consumed in small quantities, if at all, due to possible presence of carcinogens or other toxins.) The rhizomes were peeled and then boiled or baked in a pit on hot rocks covered with fronds. The fronds were used frequently for lining baking pits and storage baskets; and were spread on drying racks to prevent berries from sticking. They were variously used for placemats, floor coverings, bedding; and for games, dancing skirts and other decorations. They are frequently used today in flower arrangements.

Use by wildlife: Western Sword Fern is browsed by deer, elk, Black Bear and Mountain Beaver; frequently eaten by Roosevelt Elk on the Olympic Peninsula. The fronds may be used as nesting material for rodents.

Western Sword Fern outcrosses frequently and hybrids have been identified from crosses with Anderson’s Holly Fern (P. andersonii), Mountain Holly Fern, (P. scopulinum) California Sword Fern (P. californicum), Shasta Fern (P. lemmonii), and Narrowleaf Sword Fern, (P. imbricans)


USDA Plants Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

E-Flora BC, Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Jepson Eflora, University of California


Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Hardy Fern Library

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

Other Polystichum sp., native to the Pacific Northwest:

Narrowleaf Sword Fern, P. imbricans is similar to Western Sword Fern and once was classified as a variety of P. munitum. It is smaller (20-60cm) with overlapping, somewhat infolded leaflets and only scarcely scaly stipes (petioles). It is a better choice for a sunny spot.

Anderson’s Holly Fern, P. andersonii is much rarer; found in deep woods in the mountains. Fronds grow to 1 meter. It has a conspicuously chaffy fiddlehead and leaf stalk. Pinnae are deeply cut making it appear doubly pinnate. Bulblets form at the base of pinnae near the tip and may grow into a new plant when the frond touches the ground!

Anderson’s Holly Fern

Braun’s Holly Fern, P. braunii, is big (to 1m) and has twice pinnate leaves with no basal lobes. It grows in moist woodlands. (Native to British Columbia, southern Alaska, the Idaho panhandle—Listed as threatened or endangered in several eastern U.S. states).

California Sword Fern, P. californicum, has finely toothed leaflets rather than the prominently toothed leaflets in Western Sword Fern; each tooth is short, ending abruptly. It will grow in a variety of habitats from moist, shaded woods to open slopes, and dry, rocky terrain. It is rare in Washington & Oregon, listed as sensitive in Washington, only found in or near the Cascades in Pierce & Thurston counties).

Kruckeberg’s Holly Fern, P. kruckebergii is believed to be a fertile hybrid of P. lonchitis & P. lemmonii. It is found sporadically in the Cascades, Sierras, & Rocky Mountains on rocks and cliffs and is considered rare or imperiled in Alaska, Montana, Idaho, California and B.C.; and “of concern” in Oregon. Fronds are about 10-25cm long. Short leaflets are oval to triangular, overlapping and twisted; with teeth tipped with spines. It is named after Dr. Arthur Kruckeberg, the well-known botanist and native plant gardener and enthusiast.

Kwakiutl Holly Fern, P. kwakiutlii is known only from the type specimen, collected at Alice Arm, British Columbia in 1934. It is presumed to be one of the diploid progenitors of P. andersonii. It also produced bulblets, but differs from P. andersonii in its completely divided pinnae (leaflets). Kwakiutl is a name applied to the native people in British Columbia on Vancouver Island and surrounding areas.

Lemmon’s or Shasta Holly Fern, P. lemmonii: Fronds are twice pinnate; pinnae have no spines and are overlapping and twisted, making it appear cylindrical. This species grows in serpentine rock crevices; and is found sporadically in the Cascades from B.C. to northern California. It is only known from one site in B.C. where it is listed as threatened.

Northern Holly Fern, P. lonchitis, grows in mountains, often in rock crevices, throughout much of the northern hemisphere. Lonchitis is from the Greek logch meaning spear, referring to its spear-shaped leaves. It is once pinnate with spiny leaflets; resembling a miniature Sword Fern. It is listed as endangered in New York; and is on a review list in California.

Mountain Holly Fern or Rock Sword Fern, P. scopulinum is also like a smaller Sword Fern but is shinier and more leathery with spiny-toothed leaves. It is nearly bipinnate with long hairs on the teeth of each leaflet. It is found in dry coniferous forest or more commonly on cliffs and talus slopes. It is more frequent east of the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains; it also grows in eastern Canada.

Alaska Holly Fern, P. setigerum, is presumed to a hybrid between P. munitum and P. braunii. Fronds are 2-pinnate about the middle, finely spiny-toothed. It is found in lowland coastal forests in Alaska and B.C. It may be able find a niche in a cool, moist woodland garden.

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