Coastal Wood Fern

Coastal Wood Fern © TCorelli

California Wood Fern, Coast Wood Fern, Coastal Woodfern
Dryopteris arguta

Description (Jepson,

Sori with Indusia © DSchiel
    • Polypodiopsida (ferns)
      • A group of early vascular plants that produce spores (no flowers or seeds)
    • Wood Fern Family (Dryopteridaceae)
    • Perennial fern
      • Stress deciduous
      • Grows from rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
    • Fronds
      • Triangular, up to 24 in. long and 7 in. wide at base
      • Divided into leaflets (compound) with usually 2 levels of division (pinnation)
      • Tips of leaflets (leaf-like structures of compound leaf) are toothed or bristled
    • Lower part of stem without leaflets and with some scales
    • Sori (sacs containing reproductive cells/spores) form on the underside of the leaflets
      • In parallel rows, either side of the midrib
      • Have indusia (indusium: a membrane covering sori until mature)
    • Reproduces by spores (a small, usually single-celled, reproductive body)
    • Height usually 1-2 ft., but can reach 3 ft.


      • Native to California
        • Grows on shaded slopes in a variety of habitats, including oak woodlands, mixed evergreen forests, and chaparral
        • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
      • Outside California, grows along west coast from British Columbia south to Baja California, Mexico and into Arizona
      • Grows at elevations to 8,200 ft.

      Uses (Picking or removing any natural material from public land is illegal)

        • Food for dusky-footed woodrats (Neotoma fuscipes annectens)
        • Native people had many uses for coastal wood fern
          • Rhizomes gathered in spring for food
          • Decoction of roots made to treat vomiting and internal bleeding
          • Fronds used to clean meat and to cover meat to keep off flies
          • Infusion of fronds used as a hair wash
          • Spores used to make designs on hands

        Name Derivation

          • Dryopteris (dry-OP-ter-is) – from the Greek drys, “oak,” referring to habitat, and pteris, “fern”
          • arguta (ar-GOO-ta) – from the Latin for “sharp,” referring to the leaflet tips


            • Deer resistant
            • Associated with the fungus-like microorganism Phytophthora ramorum, which causes Sudden Oak Death (SOD)
              • At Edgewood, the two species known to be highly susceptible to SOD are coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia var. agrifolia) and Pacific madrone saplings (Arbutus menziesii)
              • For a complete list of known hosts and host associates see USDA Risk Analysis for Phytophthora ramorum, pp. 6-9

            ID Tips

              • May be confused with western sword fern (Polystichum munitum)
                • Coastal wood fern
                  • Fronds have 2 levels of division
                  • Is common along woodland trails at Edgewood
                • Western sword fern
                  • Fronds have 1 level of division
                  • Is not seen on any Edgewood trails, though they can be spotted on the hillside at the back of the Day Camp
              • Unlike other ferns at Edgewood, leaflets are often angled, like half-closed blinds

              At Edgewood

                • Common in woodlands
                • Grows year round

                See General References

                Specific References

                  American Fern Society. About Ferns.

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