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Limestone Buckler Fern

Dryopteris submontana

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Plant Profile

Dryopteridaceae (Wood Fern)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
1 metre tall
Gardens, rocky places, walls, waterside, woodland.
Ferns do not produce flowers.
The spores ripen between July and September.
Yellowish-green stalks with a blackish base. Light brown scales. The stiff fronds are narrow and triangular. They mealy and covered in numerous pale hairs. The secondary leaves have pointed teeth.
Smells of balsam.
Other Names:
Rigid Buckler Fern, Southern Wood Fern, Submontane Spleenwort.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Dryopteris submontana, also known as the southern wood fern or submontane spleenwort, is a species of fern that is native to North America. It is primarily found in the southern United States, specifically in the Appalachian Mountains.

This fern is typically a deciduous fern, which means it dies back in fall and grow again in spring, it is usually grows to be about one to three feet tall, with a slightly wider spread. The fronds of D. submontana are compound and feathery, with a long central stem that has many leaflets or pinnae, which are further divided into smaller segments or pinnules. The leaves are green and glossy on the upper surface and paler and slightly felted on the underside.

Dryopteris submontana prefers moist and well-drained soils and partial to full shade, and it is commonly found in woodlands, along streams and rivers, and in rocky or sandy areas. It is considered an important food source for several species of wildlife. It is also a popular ornamental plant due to its attractive foliage, and it can be grown in gardens, along borders, or as a ground cover. This fern is hardy in USDA zones 4-8, and can handle sun exposure in cooler climates.

This fern is not widely cultivated and not commonly found in the trade. But it could make an interesting choice for a shade garden or rock garden, if you have the right conditions and would be a good choice for native plant gardens, especially if you live in the southern US.


The Limestone Buckler Fern, also known as Dryopteris submontana, is a beautiful and hardy fern species that is native to Europe and Western Asia. It is a popular choice for landscaping, as it is easy to grow and can thrive in a wide range of conditions.


The Limestone Buckler Fern has a distinctive appearance, with bright green, lance-shaped fronds that grow in a rosette formation. The fronds are typically about 30-40 cm long, and have a slightly wavy edge. The fern's stems are dark brown or black, and are covered in tiny, scale-like hairs.


As its name suggests, the Limestone Buckler Fern is typically found in limestone-rich soils, although it can also grow in other types of soil. It is often found in rocky crevices, cliffs, and other areas with good drainage. It is also able to tolerate a wide range of temperatures, from very cold to very warm.

Growing Conditions

The Limestone Buckler Fern is an easy fern to grow and care for. It prefers a moist, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. It can grow in full sun, but prefers partial shade. It is also tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and can survive temperatures as low as -25°C.


Propagation of the Limestone Buckler Fern is relatively easy. It can be grown from spores or by division. To propagate from spores, the fern's spores should be collected in the fall and sown in a sterile growing medium. To propagate by division, the plant should be divided in the spring or fall, and the individual plants should be replanted in separate containers or in the garden.


The Limestone Buckler Fern is a popular choice for landscaping and is often used in rock gardens, borders, and as a ground cover. It can also be grown in containers and is a great choice for shady patios and other outdoor living areas. In addition, the Limestone Buckler Fern is a good plant for erosion control, as its extensive root system can help hold soil in place.

Ecological Importance

The Limestone Buckler Fern has a significant ecological role, as it is able to grow in harsh environments where other plants may not be able to survive. It is an important part of many natural ecosystems, and provides habitat and food for a variety of animals, including insects, birds, and small mammals.

Medicinal Uses

The Limestone Buckler Fern has also been used for medicinal purposes. Its rhizomes have been traditionally used to treat various ailments, including respiratory problems, stomach ailments, and joint pain. Some studies have also shown that the plant has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

Conservation Status

The Limestone Buckler Fern is listed as a "Least Concern" species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as it is widespread and abundant in its natural range. However, like many other plant species, it may be threatened by habitat loss and climate change. Therefore, it is important to ensure that this species is protected and conserved for future generations.

Cultural Significance

The Limestone Buckler Fern has also played a significant role in human cultures throughout history. In traditional folklore, the fern was believed to have magical properties and was often associated with luck, protection, and fertility. It was also believed that the fern could help one find hidden treasure or reveal secrets.

In some cultures, the Limestone Buckler Fern was used for decorative purposes. In medieval Europe, the fern was often depicted in artwork and was a popular motif in tapestries and other decorative objects. In Japan, the fern is used in traditional flower arranging and is highly valued for its elegant appearance and texture.

In modern times, the Limestone Buckler Fern continues to be appreciated for its beauty and versatility. It is a popular choice for landscaping and is often used in both formal and informal garden designs. Its hardiness and adaptability make it an ideal plant for a wide range of environments, from rocky crevices to shaded woodland areas.

Overall, the Limestone Buckler Fern is a fascinating and important plant species that has played a significant role in human cultures and natural ecosystems throughout history. Whether appreciated for its beauty, ecological importance, or cultural significance, this plant continues to be an important and valuable part of our world today.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

Click to open an Interactive Map