California Polypody

California Polypody © DSchiel

Polypodium californicum

Description (Jepson,

  • Polypodiopsida (ferns)
    • A group of early vascular plants that produce spores (no flowers or seeds)
  • Polypody Family (Polypodiaceae)
  • Perennial fern
    • Summer deciduous
    • Grows from rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
  • Fronds
    • Divided into leaflets (compound) with 1 level of division (pinnation)
    • Leaflets are finger-like
      • Fleshy to leathery, with serrate margins
      • 4-10 in. long
      • Division incomplete–leaflet tissue continuous along the midrib
  • Reproduces from spores (a small, usually single-celled, reproductive body)
    • Yellow sori (sacs containing spores) form on the underside of fronds in parallel rows, either side of the midrib
      • Some leaflets lack sori
  • Sori © DSchiel
  • Height to 13.5 in.


  • Native to California
    • Grows on coastal bluffs, in chaparral and mixed evergreen forests, in shaded canyons, along streambanks, north-facing slopes, roadcuts, and cliffs
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California, grows in Baja California, Mexico, but confined to western North America
  • Grows at elevations to 5,000 ft.

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Native people rubbed the juice of the roots on areas affected by rheumatism and on sores as an antibiotic; an infusion from the roots was used as a wash for sore eyes

Name Derivation

  • Polypodium (Pol-ee-PODE-ee-um) – from the Greek poly, “many,” and pod, “foot,” because the fronds rise from many points along the creeping rhizome

ID Tips

  • May be confused with western sword fern (Polystichum munitum), the only other fern at Edgewood whose fronds have one level of division, but western sword fern is not found trailside at Edgewood
  • California Polypody on Rock © DSchiel

At Edgewood

  • Found in woodlands
    • Look for it on the boulder at the Sylvan trail waterfall
    • See iNaturalist for observations of this plant

See General References

Specific References

    American Fern Society. About Ferns.

      U.S. Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture. What Are Ferns?.