Belchnum spictant (L.)

Deer fern


The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Tracheobionta (vascular plants). Division - Pteridophyta (Ferns). Class - Filicopsida. Order - Polypodiales. Family - Blechnaceae (Chain Fern family). Genus -Blechnum L. Species - Blechnum spictant L. sm.

Ecology: Deer fern is found in moist to wet forests and generally on heavily shaded sites. It is an indicator of hypermaritime to maritime subalpine boreal and summer-wet cool mesothermal climates. It is found on fresh to very moist nitrogen-poor soils and grows best on well-decomposed organic material and nutrient-rich soils produced from decaying wood. Deer fern is very sensitive to frost.


Leaves: Dimorphic; sterile leaves evergreen, spreading, lanceolate, 10-60 cm long, 2-10 cm wide, pinnately cleft (regularly deeply lobed); fertile leaves erect, narrowly lanceolate, 20-50 cm long, 1-pinnate with linear segments up to 7 cm long, 1-2 mm wide, withering soon after shedding spores.


Fire effects: Deer fern is probably top-killed by fire. Rhizomes may survive light surface fires.

Response to fire: Frequent, light surface fires encourage redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)/deer fern forest associations in northern California. Deer fern probably survives these low-severity fires by sprouting from surviving rhizomes.


Deer fern reproduces from spores and by sprouting from rhizomes.

Species Distribution


E-Flora of British Columbia
In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2015. E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Plants of British Columbia []. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 30/01/2017 10:20:00 AM ]

USDA Plants Database
USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
Distribution Map photo credit

USFS Plant Database
Matthews, Robin F. 1993. Blechnum spicant. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2017, January 30].

Flora of North America
Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 19+ vols. New York and Oxford.

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Burke Museum. 2017. Blechnum spictant [Online]. University of Washington.
Photo credit: 2004, Ben Legler