Nature Table: Male fern

Male fern is a common perennial plant in moist woodland and in mature woods it can be impressive with clumps reaching 150cm or more in height.

Some Irish ferns are deciduous and some are evergreen. Male fern is described as ‘semi-evergreen’ but in this country there is little die-back in mild winters in sheltered woods.

In the past it was thought to be the male form of the smaller and more delicate Lady fern, though we now know they are separate species. Ferns are ancient, non-flowering plants and the evolutionary success of the flowering plants has tended to restrict them to less favourable ecological niches.

The male fern survives because of its tolerance of the low light conditions on the woodland floor. In a deciduous wood it becomes more vigorous and more obvious after the autumn leaf-fall. There are similar species such as the scaly male fern and the dwarf or mountain male fern and hybrids do occur. However, they don’t reach the same size.


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