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Polypody Fern

Polypodium vulgare

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Plant Profile

Polypodiaceae (Polypod Fern)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
30 centimetres tall
Cliffs, rocky places, towns, walls, woodland.
No flowers. Ferns reproduce by means of spores.
Evergreen. Narrow and oblong, leathery, dark green fronds that are blunt and untoothed.
The root has an unpleasant smell.
Other Names:
Adder's Fern, Brake Root, Common Polypody, Eastern Polypody, Ever Fern, Female Fern, Golden Locks, Golden Maidenhair, Lady's Milk, Rock Brake, Rock Polypody Fern, Rockcap Fern, Wall Fern, Wood Licorice, Word Fern.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Polypodium vulgare, also known as common polypody or rock polypody, is a perennial fern in the family Polypodiaceae. It is native to Europe, Asia, and North America, and is commonly found in woods, rocky cliffs, and in crevices on buildings and walls.

The plant has dark green, leathery fronds that are typically 20-40 cm long and 5-15 cm wide, and are deeply lobed and glossy. The fronds are arranged in a rosette, and have an elongated, triangular shape. The fronds are evergreen and are attached to the rhizome by a thick, brown, scaly stipe. The fern reproduces by spores, which are produced on the underside of the fronds.

P. vulgare is commonly used as an ornamental plant in gardens and landscapes. It is well suited to shady sites, and tolerates a wide range of soil types. It is often used to cover walls, in rock gardens, and in crevices of walls and buildings. It can be propagated by spores or by dividing the rhizomes.

This fern species is a low-maintenance plant and not known to be invasive. However, in some areas it can spread aggressively, which can be controlled by regular monitoring, removing any new growth, and also by using rhizome barriers.

Polypodium vulgare has been traditionally used for medicinal purposes, but there is no scientific evidence to support these uses, and more research is needed to confirm the plant's medicinal effects and determine appropriate dosage and usage. It has been used as a diuretic, and in treatment of respiratory problems and skin diseases.


Polypody fern, scientifically known as Polypodium vulgare, is a small fern that belongs to the Polypodiaceae family. It is a native plant of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. The plant is known for its attractive foliage and is commonly grown in gardens as an ornamental plant.

Physical Characteristics

The polypody fern is a small plant, growing to a height of about 20-30 cm. Its fronds are evergreen, lance-shaped, and typically divided into several lobes. The fronds are shiny and green, and can grow up to 25 cm long. They emerge from a creeping rhizome that can form large clumps.

Habitat and Growing Conditions

Polypody ferns prefer to grow in moist, shady environments, such as woodland floors, rock crevices, and walls. They can also be grown in gardens, where they thrive in moist, well-draining soil. They can be propagated by spores, which are produced in small clusters on the underside of the fronds.


Polypody ferns have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. In traditional medicine, the roots and fronds of the plant have been used to treat respiratory problems, such as coughs and bronchitis, as well as digestive issues, such as stomach ulcers. Recent research has also shown that the plant has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

In addition to its medicinal uses, polypody ferns are also used in the cosmetic industry. The plant contains a high concentration of antioxidants, which help to protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals. It is used in skin creams and lotions to improve the texture and appearance of the skin.

Cultivation and Maintenance

Polypody ferns are relatively easy to grow and maintain. They prefer moist, well-draining soil and partial shade. The plants should be watered regularly, especially during dry spells. They can be propagated by spores or by dividing the rhizomes in spring.

In the garden, polypody ferns can be used as ground cover, and look particularly attractive when planted in groups. They are also suitable for rock gardens, and can be grown in containers.

Polypody ferns are a beautiful and useful plant that can be grown in a variety of environments. Whether you are looking for an ornamental plant for your garden, or a natural remedy for respiratory or digestive issues, the polypody fern is definitely worth considering. With its attractive foliage and easy maintenance, it is a great addition to any plant collection.

Ecological Significance

Polypody ferns play an important role in maintaining the ecological balance of their native habitats. They help to stabilize soil on steep slopes and rock faces, and provide shelter and food for a variety of small animals, including insects and snails.

The plant also serves as an indicator of the health of woodland ecosystems. In areas where the fern is thriving, it is a good sign that the ecosystem is healthy and functioning properly.

Mythology and Folklore

Polypody ferns have been the subject of many myths and legends throughout history. In ancient times, the plant was associated with the god Mercury, who was believed to have used the plant to heal his wounded foot. In medieval Europe, the fern was thought to have magical properties, and was used in various spells and rituals.

In Welsh folklore, the fern was believed to have the power to make a person invisible. According to legend, if a person was able to find a fern seed on Midsummer's Eve and eat it, they would be granted the power of invisibility.

Research and Conservation

In addition to their traditional uses, Polypody ferns have also been the subject of research and conservation efforts. One study found that the plant contains compounds that have the potential to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Other studies have looked at the plant's use in treating liver disease and osteoporosis.

The Polypody fern is also considered to be a threatened species in many areas due to habitat loss and over-harvesting. Conservation efforts are underway in many regions to protect the plant and its native habitats.

In the United States, Polypody ferns are protected under the Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to collect, transport, or sell the plant without a permit.

In Europe, the plant is protected under the Bern Convention, which aims to protect endangered species and their habitats. The European Polypody Conservation Network was established in 2009 to promote the conservation of Polypody ferns in Europe.

Final Thoughts

The Polypody fern is a fascinating and beautiful plant that has played an important role in human history and ecology. It has been used for medicinal purposes, as a source of cosmetic ingredients, and as a subject of myth and legend. It is also an important part of many ecosystems, providing food and shelter for a variety of small animals.

As we continue to learn more about the Polypody fern and its potential uses, it is important that we also work to protect the plant and its native habitats. With proper conservation efforts, we can ensure that this important plant continues to thrive for generations to come.


Common Polypody ferns filmed in Duxbury Woods, Lancashire on the 26th February 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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