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Christmas fern

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
Photo © John Hilty

Features and Behaviors

Christmas fern leaves grow in clusters from a central rootstock. Each leaf may be three feet long and four inches wide. The leaf tapers noticeably upward past the midpoint. Each leaflet is lance-shaped with an “ear.” The lower and middle leaflets alternate along the stalk. The upper leaflets point upward. Twenty to 40 pairs of leaflets are present on a leaf. The leaf stalk (stipe) is much shorter than the leaf and very scaly. This stipe is brown at the base and green above.

The Christmas fern may be found statewide in Illinois. This fern grows in woods, on rocky, shaded slopes, on wooded streambanks, in ravines, on stone walls and in swamps. It grows best in rocky or sandy soil. The Christmas fern produces spores from June through October. The leaves are evergreen. It grows in colonies or in groups of two or three plants. Its common name comes from the fact that its leaves are green at Christmas.

Illinois Range


​Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pteridophyta
Class: Polypodiopsida
Order: Polypodiales
Family: Dryopteridaceae

Illinois Status: common, native