Polystichum lonchitis

Northern Holly Fern

Northern Holly Fern, Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and  Emmet J. Judziewicz
Northern Holly Fern
Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium
and Emmet J. Judziewicz

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


  • Polystichum, from the Greek polus (polus), "many", and sticos (stichos), "row or file", a reference to the regular rows of fruitdots common to this genus of ferns.
  • lonchitis, from the Greek logch (logche), "spear", hence "spear shaped"
  • Common name from the holly-like appearance of the leaflets.
  • Other common names include Narrow Holly Fern, Polystic faux-lonchitis (Qué), Taggbräken (Swe), Taggbregne (Nor), Krumfinnet Skjoldbregne (Dan), Suippohärkylä (Fin), Skjaldburkni (Is), Lanzen-Schildfarn, Scharfer Schildfarn (Ger), Polystic en lance, Polystic en forme de lance (Fr), Kapradinka hrálovitá (Cz), Škeplapu cietpaparde (Lv)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Polypodiophyta, the True Ferns
      • Class Filicopsida
        • Order Polypodiales
          • Family Dryopteridaceae, the Wood Ferns
            • Genus Polystichum, the Holly Ferns
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 17686
  • Also known as Polypodium lonchitis


  • An evergreen fern of the far north, to be looked for on the cliffs along the Canadian border.
  • Fronds monomorphic, erect, not arching except at tip, 4"-24"
    • Petiole (leaf stalk) 1/10--1/6 of blade, densely scaly; scales light brown, gradually diminishing in size toward tip.
    • Blade once-cut, linear, often widest above middle, with narrowed base.
    • Pinnae (primary leaflets) oblong to lanceolate, lower pinnae more-or-less triangular, rarely overlapping, and in a single plane, ¼"-1¼", edges spiny with spreading teeth; scales dense, on underside only.
  • Rootstalk short, stout, erect, and very scaly.
    • Roots


  • Identifiable as a Holly Fern by its once-cut leaves with spiny edges. No other fern in the North Country has both once-cut fronds and spiny edges.
  • Field Marks
    • holly-like shape of frond


  • Alaska and the Yukon, south to California and in the Rockies to Utah and Colorado; Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan; the Gaspé, Newfoundland, and Greenland.
  • Not collected from our area, but known from adjacent north Ontario.


  • In rock crevices or at base of boulders, mostly in boreal and subalpine coniferous forests or alpine regions






  • By spore and vegetatively by rhizome


  • By rhizome division


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Not generally available commercially.



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Last Updated on 26 February, 2004