Spreading Wood Fern

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Other Names:
Northern Buckler-Fern
Latin Name:
Dryopteris Expansa

Spreading Wood Fern is a perennial Western forest fern with ornamental fronds and an edible rootstock.

Edible Uses

The Spreading Wood Fern is a native food with a long history of use.  The rhizomes are bitter when eaten raw, but after cooking they develop a rich, sweet flavor that has been compared to sweet potatoes.  This fern was and is the preferred edible species of coastal NW Native American groups.

For the best results slow cook the rhizomes at a low temperature for up to 24 hours. They can be eaten like a potato or, once cooked, added to other foods.

Ornamental Qualities

The Spreading Wood Fern is at home in moist conifer forests, shady stream banks and rocky sub-alpine forests.  It has delicate finely-divided, dark green fronds that are roughly triangular in shape. They make an excellent shade plant and will thrive on the dark and damp northern sides of a houses where little else will grow. Alternative they make an excellent understory plant in moist forests, especially where the soil is acidic, like under conifers. 

Environment and Culture

Commonly associated with streams and damp forests as well as rocky alpine crevices, the Spreading Wood Fern thrives whereever it has shade, moisture and acidic soils. They will grow well with other acid lovers like Evergreen Huckleberry, Serviceberry, Buffaloberry, Salal and alongside fellow ferns like Fiddlehead Fern.  Make sure to chose a shady, damp location for your Spreading Wood Ferns, preferably with acidic soil. The plants will propagate from spores as well as division from new growth.

Harvest, Care, and Preparation

The roots and fronds converge into a multi-stemmed rootball that is often compared to a pineapple in appearance.  Harvest the rhizomes in autumn, carefully digging up the pineapple-like root-stalk. Roots that are dull and dark are not very good eating. Instead, look for thick, white, living roots. Break these off and place the root-ball back in the ground so it will continue to grow. Peel off the rough, dark exterior to reveal the softer, lighter parts. 

Cook the rhizomes overnight in a crock pot or steam for several hours. Eat them like a potato, alone with salt and fat or added to soups and stews.

  • Native Range: CA, OR, WA, ID, BC
  • USDA zones: 
  • Ease of Care: Easy, when grown in the right conditions
  • Deer Resistance: High
  • Light Requirements: Full Shade-Part Shade
  • Soil Type: Grows best in acidic clay soils.
  • Water Requirements: Moist-Wet
  • Pollination: Self Fertile
  • Bearing Age: N/A
  • Size at Maturity: Up to 3 Feet
  • Harvest Time: Fall/Winter