Before I moved to the Pacific Northwest I always imagine that it was just full of pine trees.
Maybe it was the PNW stickers (of pine trees) that I saw everywhere but I had no idea of what it was actually like.
If you haven’t been to the PNW before, let me tell you, it’s much lusher than you expect.
If many places you’ll feel like you’re in a mossy magical rainforest with large leafy ferns, berries and fruits, and, yes, the ever-present pine tree.
Now, it is true that pine trees probably dominate the majority of the space. However, second place goes to a far more diverse and (in my opinion) interesting plant family: ferns.
The PNW is home to literally dozens of types of ferns and you can find them anywhere from the forest to the coast, from people’s yards to the sides of highways.
So let’s take a gander at the most common types of ferns found in the Pacific Northwest so you’ll know them when you see them! Or when you want to plant them in your own yard.
Common Ferns Of The Pacific Northwest
1. Sword Fern
Sword ferns adorn the rocky forests and river valleys of this entire region. Known scientifically as Polystichum munitum, sword ferns have been a part of this ecosystem for centuries and make a great addition to any garden.
They are typically dark green in color and can grow up to 4 feet tall. Sword ferns can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and moist, shady areas. They are known for their ability to tolerate dry conditions and their resistance to pests and diseases.
Sword ferns can survive with minimal moisture, making them ideal for dry summers in the region, although they do need humid conditions for optimal growth. So whether you’re looking for an easy-care plant to fill an empty flower bed or just want to capture some of the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, sword ferns could be a great choice!
2. Lady Fern
These ferns have delicate, lacy fronds and an upright habit. They are typically light green in color and can grow up to 3 feet tall. Lady ferns can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and moist, shady areas. They are known for their graceful appearance and their ability to tolerate partial shade.
Lady ferns are one of the many wonders to be found in the Pacific Northwest. Endemic to the region, these lush green plants feature a feather-like frond, a light green color, and a height of up to 3 feet.
Perfect for small spaces such as window boxes, Lady ferns thrive best in moist soil and filtered light for optimal growth which also makes them ideal for lining pathways along walkways or planting in cluster displays.
Native Americans recognized their beauty, using Lady ferns as traditional medicine amongst other uses.
3. Deer Fern
These ferns have long, narrow fronds and an upright habit. They are typically dark green in color and can grow up to 3 feet tall. Deer ferns can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and moist, shady areas. They are known for their ability to tolerate dry conditions and their resistance to pests and diseases.
Deer ferns have long, narrow, feathery-looking fronds found in the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest. They are typically dark green in color and can grow up to 3 feet tall.
These evergreen ferns have lacy fronds sprouting out from their stumps whose edges are cut with wavy lines rather than straight blades like other fern varieties. Deer ferns provide shelter for all sorts of creatures; ranging from small bugs to larger mammals such as elks, deer, and even bears!
So be careful before you go poking around in a bunch of Deer ferns…
4. Bracken Fern
One of the more unusual ferns in the PNW, Bracken ferns have ancient origins that can be traced back to prehistoric times which makes sense once you see them in the types of habitats they love.
Bracken ferns vary in color from golden yellow to chocolate brown. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, they play a particularly important role in the ecosystems of the PNW, especially for insects and amphibians.
5. Polypody Fern
Polypody Ferns are a vital part of the Pacific Northwest as they provide ground cover for the most delicate ecosystems. These ferns thrive in shady environments, like moist, humus-rich valley bottoms and the slopes of ancient volcanoes.
Polypody ferns send out fronds that look like velvet and stretch out from the ground to five or six inches long. They are also known for their ability to tolerate dry conditions and their resistance to pests and diseases.
However, they’re not unique to the PNW. Polypody Ferns grow throughout western North America, including Hawaii. In vitro research has demonstrated that they possess anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, possibly making them medicinal plants of the future!
6. Ostrich Fern
These ferns have long, feathery fronds and an upright habit. They are typically light green in color and can grow up to 4 feet tall. Ostrich ferns can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and moist, shady areas.
With their tall stems, curved tips, and pale fronds fanning out in an elegant display, these foliage giants capture the eye wherever they are spotted. In addition to being stunning to behold, ostrich ferns have a highly practical purpose; because of their relatively shallow roots and lacy shape, they help hold together slopes and riverbanks from erosion. Nestled among them you may even find forest dwellers such as salamanders or frogs so keep an eye out!
7. Cinnamon Fern
Cinnamon ferns are typically dark green in color and can grow up to 4 feet tall. Cinnamon ferns can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and moist, shady areas. They are known for their spicy scent and their ability to tolerate wet conditions.
In their juvenile state, Cinnamon ferns unfold bright green fan-shaped fronds that turn dark green with maturity. This diverse species can be found growing along freshwater rivers and streams, near misty waterfalls, in the cool dampness of coastal forests, or even in city parks.
While they generally do not require much maintenance in order to survive and thrive in your yard, they will benefit from an occasional dividing or division when necessary.
8. Maidenhair Fern
The Maidenhair fern is an iconic Pacific Northwest plant that can often be found in the deepest, darkest parts of the forest. With its delicate fronds and vibrant lime green hue, this hardy species adapts to the varying climates of Oregon, Washington, and northern California.
Considering its distinctive look it’s no wonder that many have adopted the Maidenhair Fern as a symbol of the PNW’s unique environment.
9. Blechnum Fern
Blechnum ferns are iconic specimens of the Pacific Northwest’s varied flora. These cascading, graceful evergreen ferns are native to many countries around the world, but what makes them an interesting foraging sight in the PNW is their tendency to grow at higher elevations.
Though they can typically be seen in damp, warm environments such as rainforests or coastal marshes, one can also find them on rocky slopes by the sea or on moist logs throughout temperate forests up north.
With its leathery ruffled fronds and eye-catching color scheme that ranges from deep green to bronze tones, this plant is truly unique! They also have a lovely aroma which makes that a great addition to either your garden or your indoor plant assortment.
10. Adiantum Fern
Despite their delicate and striking appearance, Adiantum ferns are hearty and versatile plants, making them a popular choice for gardeners in the Pacific Northwest.
Not only do they come in several varieties, from the dark, almost black fronds of the northern maidenhair fern to the soft, lacey fronds of the western five-finger fern, but they require minimal maintenance to thrive.
They can be planted most anywhere in partial to full shade and love an occasional misting or light watering – perfect for this region’s rainy climate.
11. Onoclea Fern
Onoclea ferns may not be the most beautiful plants in the Pacific Northwest, but they make an invaluable contribution to nature.
Found in wet, marshy areas throughout the region, these tough and unassuming beauties take up vital roles as ground cover, helping to prevent erosion and protect fragile soil communities with their grass-like fronds.
Furthermore, they provide habitat and food for animals such as frogs, birds, rodents, and other small creatures. Best of all, they are easy to recognize because of their unique appearance—heart-shaped leaflets arranged in layers on a single stem that looks like a small tree trunk due to its age.
Why Does The PNW Have So Many Ferns?
The answer to our question lies in our climate. The mild temperatures and high levels of precipitation provide optimal growing conditions for ferns, allowing them to thrive in the area. In fact, some species of ferns have been known to survive even during periods of extreme cold or drought. This is thanks to their unique ability to store water within their leaves, which helps them stay hydrated through periods when water may be scarce.
In short, there are so many ferns in the Pacific Northwest because they thrive under its mild climate and plentiful precipitation. As integral parts of forest ecosystems, ferns provide food and shelter for wildlife making them essential components of nature’s balance. So next time you’re out exploring nature, take a moment to appreciate all the beauty that these unique plants bring!