The Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), or the Western North American Fern, is a recognizable perennial to many. This wood fern is not to be confused with the Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum), which may appear in similar areas. The Sword Fern is evergreen in color, its fronds stretching up to 1.5 metres long. Each frond maintains a simple 1-pinnate organization, where each leaflet extends on either side of a central stem axis (as seen in the photos below). A frond may have a breadth of up to 25 cm wide. The tapered, toothed leaflets decrease in size with increasing distance from the crown (root-stems).
The Sword Fern was used in a variety of ways by Indigenous peoples. The root-stems (rhizomes) from spring collections were eaten after cleaning and roasting, often being paired with grease or salmon eggs. The fronds were utilized for basket decoration or useful linings (i.e. cooking pits, boxes, baskets). The fern often maintains a relationship with Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata); it is also successfully grown in home gardens.
This fern is a widespread species on the West Coast of North America. The Sword Fern dwells coastally from Alaska to nearly Mexico, but also within select inland sites. These include southern B.C, Washington and Idaho. Preferring a moist to semi-moist environment in lowlands or mountainous zones, the Sword fern is successful in Vancouver Island’s temperate climate. As a fern, the plant will never flower, therefore its appearance remains consistent year-round.
For more information, visit E-Flora BC or the Royal BC Museum.