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Holly Fern

Polystichum lonchitis

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Dryopteridaceae (Wood Fern)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
1 metre tall
Cliffs, mountains, rocky places, woodland.
Ferns do not have flowers, instead they have spores in order to reproduce themselves.
The spores ripen over winter from August to April.
A tufted, erect fern. The leaves (fronds) are overwintering and are leathery. The oblong leaflets have numerous spiny teeth.
Other Names:
Holly-fern, Mountain Holly Fern, Northern Hollyfern, Sword Fern.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Polystichum lonchitis, also known as the holly fern or the sword fern, is a species of fern that is native to Europe, Asia, and North America. It is a large, evergreen fern that can reach up to 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide. The fronds are glossy and dark green, with a distinctive holly-like shape. They are typically 1-2 feet long and 4-6 inches wide.

The holly fern is a hardy plant that can tolerate a wide range of conditions, including shade, partial shade, and even full sun in cool climates. It is tolerant of a wide range of soil types and can even grow in dry soils. It is commonly used as an ornamental plant in gardens and landscapes, and is also often grown as a houseplant.

Propagation is by division or spores, division is the easiest way to propagate the fern and can be done in early spring or fall, when new growth has begun.

The holly fern is generally disease-free, but it can be susceptible to scale insects and spider mites. Regularly inspecting the plant and removing any pests you find by hand or with an insecticidal soap will help keep the fern healthy.


Holly Fern, or Polystichum lonchitis, is a beautiful evergreen fern that is native to Europe, Asia, and North America. It is often grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and is highly prized for its striking foliage and easy-to-care-for nature.

Physical Characteristics

Holly Fern has a unique appearance that sets it apart from other ferns. It has glossy, dark green fronds that are shaped like holly leaves. The fronds are bipinnate, which means that they are divided into two distinct parts, each of which is further divided into smaller segments. The segments are usually pointed and serrated, which gives the plant a sharp and spiky appearance. The fronds grow in a rosette pattern and can reach up to 60cm in length.

Growing Requirements

Holly Fern is a hardy plant that can tolerate a wide range of growing conditions. It can grow in full sun or partial shade and prefers moist, well-drained soil. The plant can also tolerate dry soil once established. It is also highly adaptable and can thrive in a variety of soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay soils.

One of the most significant advantages of Holly Fern is that it is highly resistant to pests and diseases. It is also deer resistant, making it an ideal plant for gardens and landscapes in areas with high deer populations.


Holly Fern is a versatile plant that can be used in a variety of ways. It is commonly used as a border plant, groundcover, or edging plant. It is also an excellent choice for woodland gardens or rock gardens, where its sharp and spiky appearance can add visual interest to the landscape.

In addition to its ornamental value, Holly Fern has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. It is believed to have astringent and anti-inflammatory properties and has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory infections, skin conditions, and gastrointestinal disorders.


Holly Fern is a plant that is typically found in rocky or stony places in forests, woodlands, and mountainous regions. It grows well in areas with a cool and humid climate, but it can also tolerate hot and dry conditions.


Holly Fern can be propagated by spores or by dividing mature plants. Spores can be collected from the underside of mature fronds and grown in a sterile potting mix. The plants can take up to two years to reach maturity. Mature plants can be divided in the spring or fall by gently separating the root ball and replanting the individual clumps.


Several cultivars of Holly Fern are available for gardeners, each with its unique characteristics. 'Cristatum' has fronds with wavy edges, while 'Plumosomultilobum' has fronds with finely divided segments. 'Congestum' has fronds that are more compact and have a more upright growth habit.


In ancient folklore, Holly Fern was believed to have protective powers and was often used in charms and talismans. In Christianity, the plant was associated with the crown of thorns worn by Jesus and was sometimes referred to as the "Christ Thorn." Holly Fern has also been used in Celtic mythology and was believed to have been a symbol of transformation and spiritual growth.

Holly Fern is a beautiful and versatile plant that has been used for centuries for its ornamental and medicinal properties. It is a hardy plant that is easy to care for and can add visual interest to any garden or landscape. Whether used as a groundcover, border plant, or for its medicinal properties, Holly Fern is a plant that is sure to be appreciated by gardeners and plant enthusiasts alike.

Caring for Holly Fern

Holly Fern is a relatively low-maintenance plant, but it still requires some care to thrive. Here are some tips on how to care for Holly Fern:

  1. Watering: Holly Fern requires moist soil, especially during the growing season. Water the plant regularly, ensuring that the soil remains consistently moist. However, be careful not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot.

  2. Fertilizing: Holly Fern does not require regular fertilization, but you can add a slow-release fertilizer in the spring to encourage growth.

  3. Pruning: Holly Fern does not require much pruning, but you can remove any dead or damaged fronds to keep the plant looking tidy.

  4. Pest control: Holly Fern is highly resistant to pests and diseases, but you should still keep an eye out for any signs of infestation, such as mites or scale insects. Use a natural or chemical insecticide to control any infestations.

  5. Winter care: Holly Fern is an evergreen plant that can tolerate winter temperatures, but it may require some protection in colder climates. Mulching the soil around the plant can help to insulate the roots and protect the plant from frost damage.

Uses in Landscaping

Holly Fern is a versatile plant that can be used in a variety of ways in landscaping. Here are some ideas:

  1. Groundcover: Plant Holly Fern as a groundcover in shady areas. It will spread slowly to create a dense mat of foliage that will help to suppress weeds.

  2. Border plant: Use Holly Fern as a border plant to create a natural-looking edge around garden beds. It pairs well with other shade-loving plants, such as Hostas and Astilbes.

  3. Container plant: Holly Fern can also be grown in containers, making it an excellent choice for patios or balconies.

  4. Woodland garden: Holly Fern is well-suited for woodland gardens, where it can be planted in naturalistic groupings under trees and shrubs.

In conclusion, Holly Fern is a beautiful and versatile plant that is well-suited for gardens and landscapes. It is easy to care for and highly resistant to pests and diseases, making it an ideal choice for both novice and experienced gardeners. Whether used as a groundcover, border plant, or in a woodland garden, Holly Fern is sure to add a touch of elegance and sophistication to any landscape.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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