Dryopteris cristata

Crested Wood Fern

Crested Shield Fern, Photo courtesy USDA Plants Database
Crested Shield Fern
Photo courtesy USDA Plants Database

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Dryopteris, from the Greek, drus (drys), "oak" and pteris (pteris), "fern", "fern of the oak wood"
  • cristata, from the Latin cristatus, "tufted, crested"
  • Common name from
  • Other common names include Crested Shield Fern, Crested Buckler Fern, Buckler Fern, Narrow Swamp Fern, Dryoptère à Crêtes (Qué), Crested Buckler-fern, Gray Crested Shield Fern (UK), Granbräken (Swe), Vasstelg (Nor), Butfinnet Mangeløv (Dan), Korpialvejuuri (Fin), Kammfarn (Ger), Tarajos pajzsika (Hun)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Polypodiophyta, the True Ferns
      • Class Filicopsida
        • Order Polypodiales
          • Family Dryopteridaceae, the Wood Ferns
            • Genus Dryopteris, the Wood Ferns
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 17531
  • Also known as Aspidium cristatum, Lastrea cristata, Nephrodium cristatum, Polypodium cristatum, Polystichum cristatum, Thelypteris cristata
  • Thought to have originated from a cross of Dryopteris ludoviciana and the hypothetical, and presumably extinct, Dryopteris semicristata.
  • Hybridizes with five species, producing plants identifiable by narrow blades and triangular lower pinnae.


  • A gaunt fern of wetlands.
  • Fronds dimorphic; fertile leaves deciduous, 10"-24"; sterile leaves smaller, 6"-12", forming persistent, evergreen rosette.
    • Petiole (leaf stalk) 1/4--1/3 length of leaf, scaly at least at base; scales scattered and tan.
    • Blade green, narrowly lanceolate or with parallel sides, twice-cut.
    • Rachis (axis) green; slightly scaly toward base.
    • Pinnae (primary leaflets) of fertile leaves triangular, twisted out of plane of blade and perpendicular to it; lower pair somewhat reduced in size.
    • Pinnules (secondary leaflets) uncut, with spiny teeth; lowest pair of pinnules longer than adjacent pinnules; basal basiscopic pinnule and basal acroscopic pinnule equal.
  • Rootstalk dark brown, stout, creeping or ascending, with numerous brown scales.
    • Roots black, wiry, and widely spreading; numerous.
  • Sori midway between midvein and leaf edge.
    • Indusia kidney shaped, with minute hairs.


  • The narrow frond with short, widely spaced, and tilted leaflets is unlike anything else in the North Country.
  • Distinguished from other Dryopteris species by habitat and narrow fronds with widely spaced leaflets tilted out of the plane of the blade.
  • Field Marks
    • wetland habitat
    • narrow fronds with widely spaced, tilted leaflets


  • Circumboreal, British Columbia to Newfoundland, south to NE Washington, Idaho, NW Montana, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
  • Europe from Norway to Russia, south to the UK, Spain, Italy, and Romania.


  • Moist woods, thickets, marshes, swamps, sphagnum bogs, and open shrubby wetlands.






  • By spore and vegetatively by rhizome.


  • By rhizome division.


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Sun to part shade.
    • Moist to wet soil
  • Occasionally available by mail order from specialty suppliers.



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Last Updated on 26 February, 2004