Pioneer Valley Fern Society

2022-2023 Winter Ferns

#3 Crested Fern

Our third Winter Fern of this season is the Crested Fern (Dryopteris cristata). It is also called Crested Wood Fern and formerly Crested Shield Fern. It is a medium sized fern and an obligate wetland plant, commonly found growing in wooded wetlands, or on sedge hummocks in more open wetlands. Surprisingly, it looks like I have never highlighted it before, although we see it on many of our fern walks. The sterile fronds are leathery and remain a nice bright green in the winter. You can often find the taller, fertile fronds brown and withered in the same clump in the winter. The tallest frond in the middle of this photo is a fertile one that is fading.

The key features to identify the Crested Fern from other wood ferns are: the lowest leaflets (pinnae) are broadly triangular and stubby (shorter); the blade is narrower than other Wood Ferns; and the pinnae of the fertile fronds are rotated in a perpendicular manner similar to venetian blinds. Like other Wood Ferns, they do grow in a symmetrical clump.

The Crested Fern grows throughout the Northeast, down into PA and NJ, and is also found in Europe (S. Chadde, Northeast Ferns). Keep your eyes out for it when hiking through wetlands this winter! We have found it at the 4H Forest (Leverett), Lawrence Swamp (Amherst), and North Mountain Rd and Cranberry Pond (Sunderland).