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Mountain Male Fern

Dryopteris oreades

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Plant Profile

Aspidiaceae (Shield Fern)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
50 centimetres tall
Cliffs, gardens, mountains, rocky places, woodland.
Ferns do not have any flowers. The have spores as their reproductive organs.
The spores ripen from July to October.
Yellow-green leaf stalks with a blackish base. Pale brown scales. The fronds are pinnate with the middle lobe longest.
The fronds (leaves) are slightly fragrant after crushing them.
Other Names:
Mountain Shield Fern, Mountain Wood Fern.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Dryopteris oreades, also known as the mountain wood fern or mountain shield fern, is a species of fern that is native to North America, specifically in Canada and the United States. It is a perennial, evergreen fern that can grow to be up to 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) tall and wide. The fronds are triangular in shape, are dark green and glossy and have a distinct midrib. The new fronds emerge in a coppery-bronze color, which provides an attractive contrast to the mature dark green leaves.

This species is found in many different types of habitats, including rocky woods, cliffs, ledges and slopes, it is drought tolerant and can grow in full sun or partial shade.

It is an attractive ornamental plant that is often used in gardens and landscapes, it can be grown in rock gardens, woodland gardens, or along a stream or pond. It also can be used in large containers on patios, decks or terraces, or they can be used as indoor house plants. It can be propagated by spores or by division of the rhizomes.

It is relatively easy to care for and low maintenance. it is drought tolerant and can grow in full sun, but it prefers light shade or filtered sunlight. It is not picky about soil type, but it does prefer well-draining soil that is consistently moist. It can be fertilized with a slow-release fertilizer in spring for best growth.

It is a hardy plant that is tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions, making it a good choice for a range of different garden and landscape settings.


The Mountain Male Fern, also known as Dryopteris oreades, is a fern species native to Europe and Asia. It is a perennial plant that belongs to the Dryopteridaceae family, which is one of the largest fern families in the world. This species of fern is commonly found in shaded woodland areas, where it can grow up to 60cm in height.

One of the most striking features of the Mountain Male Fern is its fronds, which are dark green and lance-shaped, with a slightly leathery texture. The fronds are pinnate, which means that they are divided into numerous leaflets that are arranged on either side of the central stem. The leaflets are further divided into smaller segments that are pointed and toothed at the edges. The fronds emerge from a central crown that forms a rosette of foliage, and new fronds are produced each year.

The Mountain Male Fern is a hardy plant that can grow in a variety of soil types, as long as they are well-drained and moderately fertile. It prefers a damp, shady environment and can tolerate cold temperatures and even frost. This makes it an ideal plant for woodland gardens, shady borders, and rockeries.

In addition to its ornamental qualities, the Mountain Male Fern has a number of other uses. It has been used in traditional medicine as a remedy for various ailments, including fever, sore throat, and kidney stones. The fern also contains tannins, which have astringent properties and can be used to treat diarrhea and other digestive problems.

In terms of cultivation, the Mountain Male Fern is a relatively easy plant to grow. It prefers a shaded or partially shaded location with moist soil, but can tolerate some periods of dryness once established. It is important to avoid planting it in direct sunlight, as this can cause the leaves to scorch and turn brown. The fern can be propagated through division of the rhizomes, which can be done in the spring or fall.

In its natural habitat, the Mountain Male Fern is an important component of woodland ecosystems, providing habitat for various animals and insects. In gardens, it can also serve as a habitat for various species of insects and spiders, making it a valuable addition to any wildlife-friendly garden.

It is worth noting that while the Mountain Male Fern is not toxic to humans, it should be handled with care as it can cause skin irritation in some people. The plant contains a chemical compound called filicin, which can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. It is best to wear gloves when handling the plant, especially when dividing or transplanting it.

The Mountain Male Fern is a popular fern species among gardeners due to its attractive foliage and ease of care. It is commonly used in woodland gardens, shady borders, and as a groundcover under trees. When planted en masse, the fern can create a beautiful and lush carpet of green that adds a natural and organic feel to any landscape.

The Mountain Male Fern is also a great plant for erosion control. Its extensive root system helps to stabilize soil and prevent erosion, making it an ideal choice for sloping gardens or areas prone to erosion.

One of the interesting characteristics of the Mountain Male Fern is that it is able to grow in soils that are high in heavy metals, such as lead, copper, and zinc. This makes it a valuable plant for phytoremediation, the process of using plants to remove pollutants from soil.

The Mountain Male Fern is not only visually appealing but it also plays an important role in ecology. The plant provides shelter and food for a variety of insects, including moths, beetles, and aphids, which in turn can attract birds and other wildlife to the garden. The plant's leaves and roots also contribute to the organic matter in the soil, improving soil health and fertility.

Another interesting feature of the Mountain Male Fern is that it has been used in folklore and traditional medicine for centuries. In many cultures, the fern was believed to possess magical properties and was used in spells and rituals. In traditional medicine, the fern was used as a remedy for various ailments, including wounds, fever, and kidney stones.

Today, scientific studies have shown that the fern contains several compounds that may have medicinal properties. For example, one study found that extracts from the fern had antimicrobial activity against several species of bacteria and fungi. Another study suggested that the fern could have potential as an anticancer agent, although more research is needed in this area.

Overall, the Mountain Male Fern is a fascinating plant that has played an important role in human culture and medicine for centuries. Whether you are interested in its ornamental qualities, its ecological benefits, or its potential medicinal properties, the fern is definitely worth exploring further. With its hardiness, ease of care, and striking fronds, it is sure to be a valuable addition to any garden or landscape.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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