Polystichum munitum


Common name: sword fern, giant holly fern

Scientific name: Polystichum munitum

Plant family: Dryopteridaceae

Polystichum munitum is an evergreen fern.  It grows with fronds or stalks that have multiple leaves coming out of the sides in pairs.  The fronds are flat and very sturdy, with a bright green top and spores on the bottom.  The leaves are serrated and have mini points along the edge of the leaf.  It grows in patches from 2 to 15 fronds.[1]


Habitat: This species grows very well in well moist areas, usually in coniferous forests under Psuedotsuga menziesii trees.  They tend to grow at the base of the trees and can be found with Gaultheria shallon growing nearby.  It likes the sun light, and can grow with relatively low soil levels.[2]


Range: Polystichum munitum  ranges from B.C. to California, and the Guadalupe Islands, and from the West coast to the Montana and South Dakota.

Historical and Contemporary Uses

Native Americans such as the Quiteute, Makah, Klallam, Squamish, Sechelt, and Haida, would roast or peel the rhizomes to eat during Spring time when little or no other provisions were sufficient.  These tribes are coastal and most reside in Northwest Washington.[2]

Traditional uses of the plant consist of using the spores to relieve the sting of stinging nettles, and florists use it for ornamental purposes. The fronds can be used to line baskets, boxes, or fruit drying racks or as stuffing material.  A decoction of the rhizomes can treat dandruff.  An infusion of the fronds can treat boils and sores as a wash or poultice.  Young shoots can be eaten to help treat cancer in the womb and sore throats.  Leaves can help childbirth when chewed. The Sporangia can be crushed into a poultice and help sores.[3] The roots can be boiled or roasted, then peeled and baked like a potato, and Native Americans used the plant as a famine food, when little else was available.

Polystichum munitum helps the growth of Psuedotsuga menziesii, and a study has shown that trees with only Polystichum munitum growing underneath grow about 40ft taller on average, than if Gaultheria shallon is present.[2]

[1] Hitchcock, Leo. Flora of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1974. 53. Print.

[2] Franklin, Jerry. Flora of the Pacific Northwest. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1988. 73. Print.

[3] Polystichum Munitum.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 6 Nov 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polystichum_munitum>.)”Polystichum Munitum.” Natural Madicinal Herbs. Natural Madicinal Herbs, n.d. Web. 6 Nov 2011. <http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/p/polystichum-munitum=giant-holly-fern.php>.