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Hard Fern

Blechnum spicant

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Plant Profile

Blechnaceae (Chain Fern)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Gardens, grassland, heathland, moorland, mountains, rocky places, swamps, woodland.
Ferns have spores, flowers are therefore absent.
The spores on the underside of the fronds can be either yellow, green, brown or black.
The fronds can either be sterile or fertile. The evergreen, narrow, sterile fronds often lie horizontally across the ground, and the even narrower, taller, fertile fronds are more erect, withering towards the end of the season. The fertile fronds emerge out of the ground from the centre of the plant, and the sterile fronds from the edges.
Other Names:
Deer Fern.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Blechnum spicant, also known as deer fern or hard fern, is a perennial fern in the family Blechnaceae. It is native to western North America, from Alaska to California and east to the Rocky Mountains.

Blechnum spicant is a ground-covering fern that forms dense clumps of evergreen fronds. The fronds are typically 30-50 cm long and 5-15 cm wide and are finely divided, with a leathery texture. They are dark green in color and are arranged in a rosette. The fronds are not divided into leaflets, but instead have a series of small, spiky, segments which give the plant its common name "deer fern" as it is said to resemble the antlers of deer.

Blechnum spicant is commonly used as an ornamental plant in gardens and landscapes, often planted as ground cover, rock gardens or woodland gardens. It is well suited to moist, shady sites and is tolerant of a wide range of soil types. It can be propagated from spores or by dividing the rhizomes.

This fern species is also useful as a food source for deer and elk, and also as a nesting place for small birds and insects. The native people of the Pacific Northwest also used the rhizomes as a medicinal treatment for cuts, wounds and other skin conditions.

Blechnum spicant is generally considered to be a low-maintenance plant, and it is not known to be invasive or aggressive. However, in some areas, it can spread beyond its intended boundaries, in this case, it can be controlled by regular monitoring, removing any new growth and also using rhizome barriers.


Hard Fern, also known as Blechnum spicant, is a type of fern that is native to Europe and North America. It is a hardy and adaptable plant that is commonly found in woodlands, moors, and mountainous areas. Hard Ferns have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties and are still used today in some parts of the world.

Description and Characteristics

Hard Ferns are an evergreen fern that grows in clumps, with fronds reaching up to 60cm (24in) long. The fronds are deeply divided, giving them a feathery appearance, and they grow in a distinctive shuttlecock shape. The leaves are a dark green color and are leathery in texture.

Hard Ferns prefer to grow in damp, shady areas, and are commonly found in woodlands, hedgerows, and along riverbanks. They can also be found in more exposed locations, such as on mountains and moors, where they can withstand harsh conditions.

Medicinal Uses

Hard Ferns have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties. The plant contains a compound called tannin, which has astringent properties and can be used to treat diarrhea and dysentery. It has also been used as a poultice to treat wounds and sores, as it has anti-inflammatory properties.

In addition to its medicinal uses, Hard Fern has also been used in folk remedies for a variety of ailments. In some parts of Europe, the plant is used to treat coughs and colds, and it is also believed to have diuretic properties and be helpful for urinary tract infections.

Cultivation and Care

Hard Ferns are easy to grow and require very little maintenance. They prefer to grow in damp, shady areas, but can tolerate a range of conditions. They are best planted in spring or early autumn, and should be placed in a well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter.

Hard Ferns can be propagated from spores or by dividing the clumps. To propagate from spores, collect them in the late summer or early autumn and sow them in a seed tray filled with compost. Keep the tray in a shaded area and keep the compost moist. The spores will germinate in a few weeks and can be transplanted into individual pots.

In terms of care, Hard Ferns require very little attention. They should be watered regularly, especially during dry spells, and any dead fronds should be removed in the autumn to make way for new growth.

Hard Ferns are a hardy and adaptable plant that has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. Whether grown for their ornamental value or for their medicinal uses, Hard Ferns are a valuable addition to any garden or natural space.

Ecological Importance

Hard Ferns are an important component of forest ecosystems, providing habitat and food for a wide range of animals. The fronds of the plant can be used as a nesting material for birds, and the plant itself is a food source for caterpillars, slugs, and other insects. The fern's presence in a forest also helps to create a more stable environment, as it helps to prevent soil erosion and reduce the impact of heavy rainfall.

Conservation Status

Although Hard Ferns are not considered endangered, they are under threat from habitat loss and degradation. As forests are cleared for agriculture or development, the plant's natural habitat is destroyed. In addition, the plant is vulnerable to over-harvesting for medicinal or ornamental purposes, which can further threaten its populations. It is important to preserve the plant's natural habitat and to promote responsible cultivation and harvesting practices to ensure its continued survival.

Cultural Significance

Hard Ferns have played an important role in traditional medicine and folklore in many cultures. In European folklore, the plant was believed to protect against evil spirits and was used as a charm against witchcraft. In Welsh mythology, the plant was associated with the fairy kingdom and was believed to have magical powers. In some parts of the world, the plant is still used as a traditional remedy for a range of ailments.

In addition to its medicinal and cultural significance, Hard Ferns also have ornamental value. The plant's distinctive shuttlecock shape and feathery fronds make it a popular choice for gardens and landscaping. It can be grown in a variety of settings, from woodland gardens to rock gardens, and can add a touch of natural beauty to any space.

Hard Ferns are a fascinating and versatile plant that has been valued for centuries for its medicinal, ecological, and cultural significance. Whether grown for its ornamental value or for its medicinal uses, Hard Ferns are a valuable and important part of our natural world. It is important to protect and preserve this species to ensure its continued survival and to maintain the ecological balance of our forests and natural spaces.


Hard Ferns can be propagated through spores or by division. Spores are produced on the undersides of mature fronds and can be collected in late summer or early autumn. The spores are then sown in a shallow tray of compost, covered with a sheet of glass or plastic wrap, and kept in a cool and shady location. When the spores have germinated, the young plants are carefully pricked out and potted up. After a year or two, the plants can be transplanted to their permanent location.

Dividing clumps is a faster and more reliable way of propagating Hard Ferns. The best time to divide the clumps is in spring when the new growth is starting. The clump is carefully lifted and separated into smaller pieces, each with several healthy fronds and roots. The new plants are then replanted in a suitable location.

Pests and Diseases

Hard Ferns are generally healthy plants and not prone to many pests and diseases. However, they can be susceptible to slug and snail damage, which can cause significant damage to the fronds. To control these pests, use a natural slug deterrent or barrier such as eggshells or copper tape.

Over-watering can cause the roots to rot and lead to fungal infections. Therefore, it is important to avoid excessive watering and ensure that the soil is well-drained. If fungal infection is suspected, treat the plant with a fungicide and improve the drainage.


Hard Ferns are a fascinating and versatile plant that is valued for its ornamental, ecological, and medicinal properties. Its ability to thrive in a range of conditions and its important role in forest ecosystems make it a valuable addition to any natural space. Its unique shuttlecock shape and feathery fronds also make it an attractive choice for gardens and landscaping. With proper care and attention, Hard Ferns can provide years of beauty and enjoyment, while also supporting a healthy and balanced ecosystem.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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