Struthiopteris spicant – Deer fern

Synonyms/former names: Blechnum spicant

thin fronds of a deer fern in a forest.

At a Glance

  • Family: Blechnaceae
  • Plant type: fern
  • Distribution: native to Pacific coastal regions from northern California to Alaska and in northern Idaho along the Rocky Mountains also around Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa
  • Habitat: shaded locations in moist to wet forests, wet slopes under alders, stream banks, occasional bogs, from low to subalpine elevations.
  • Height: 2’x 2’. The non-reproductive fronds are generally low to the ground, while the reproductive fronds are taller.
  • Reproduction: by spores. Distributed near margin, protected by a thin translucent brown membrane (indusium) along leaflet edge
  • Leaves: 2 types of fronds: sterile fronds usually pressed to the ground, 20-80cm long/tall, evergreen, leathery, stipes are purple-brown, leaflets range from 35-70 pairs, widely spaced and oblong, tapering at both ends; fertile leaves are similarly shaped, but they shoot straight up from the center of the base, deciduous with narrower leaflets that will often roll up at base.
  • Generation: perennial
  • Notable features: similarly shaped to sword fern, but leaflets are attached directly to the rachis along their entire length, whereas sword fern leaflets are attached to stalks (and possess a thumb-like appendage at the base of each “leaflet”). 2 types of fronds are noteworthy.

Restoration and Conservation

  • Important winter food for deer and elk and year round cover for small mammals and amphibians

Ethnobotany/Commercial Use

  • Hesquiat hunters and travelers would chew on the young leaves as a hunger suppressant
  • The leaves could also be used as medicine for skin sores: observed by Hesquiat elders who saw deer rub the leaves on their antler stubs after they had fallen off


For questions regarding the EERC Native Plant Guided Tour, contact Sarah at