dryopteris filix-mas - (L.)Schott.
Common Name Male Fern
Family Dryopteridaceae
USDA hardiness 3-8
Known Hazards Although we have found no reports for this species, a number of ferns contain carcinogens so some caution is advisable[200]. The fresh plant contains thiaminase, an enzyme that robs the body of its vitamin B complex. In small quantities this enzyme will do no harm to people eating an adequate diet that is rich in vitamin B, though large quantities can cause severe health problems. The enzyme is destroyed by heat or thorough drying, so cooking the plant will remove the thiaminase[172]. However, there have been reports for other species of ferns suggesting that even cooked fronds can have a long term harmful effect. Some caution is therefore advised.
Habitats Damp undergrowth, woodlands and other shady positions[7, 9, 31].
Range Throughout Europe, including Britain, and temperate Asia.
Edibility Rating  
Other Uses  
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Semi-shade

Translate this page:

You can translate the content of this page by selecting a language in the select box.

Form: Irregular or sprawling, Upright or erect.

dryopteris filix-mas Male Fern

dryopteris filix-mas Male Fern
Physical Characteristics
 icon of manicon of fern
dryopteris filix-mas is an evergreen Fern growing to 1.2 m (4ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 2. It is in leaf 12-Jan, and the seeds ripen from Jul to September. Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid and neutral soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

Nephrodium felix-mas.

Woodland Garden Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Ground Cover;
Edible Uses
Edible Parts: Leaves;  Root.
Edible Uses:

Young fronds - cooked[105, 177]. A flavour resembling asparagus, broccoli and artichokes[142]. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. The rhizomes can be eaten raw or cooked[257]. They were eaten raw as part of a regime for losing weight[257].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Anodyne;  Antibacterial;  Antiinflammatory;  Antirheumatic;  Antiviral;  Astringent;  Febrifuge;  Vermifuge;  

The male fern is one of the most popular and effective treatments for tape worms. The root stalks are anodyne, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, astringent, febrifuge, vermifuge and vulnerary[7, 9, 13, 19, 21, 171, 178, 218, 238]. The root contains an oleoresin that paralyses tapeworms and other internal parasites and has been used as a worm expellent[222, 238]. The active ingredient in this oleo-resin is 'filicin', roots of this species contain about 1.5 - 2.5% filicin[240]. It is one of the most effective treatments known for tapeworms - its use should be immediately followed by a non-oily purgative such as magnesium sulphate, Convolvulus scammonia or Helleborus niger in order to expel the worms from the body[7, 238, 254]. An oily purge, such as caster oil, increases the absorption of the fern root and can be dangerous[238]. The root is also taken internally in the treatment of internal haemorrhage, uterine bleeding, mumps and feverish illnesses[238]. The root is harvested in the autumn and can be dried for later use[7]. This remedy should be used with caution and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner[21, 238]. The root is toxic and the dosage is critical[238]. Pregnant women and people with heart complaints should not be prescribed this plant[7]. See also notes above on toxicity. Externally, the root is used as a poultice in the treatment of abscesses, boils, carbuncles and sores[238, 268].


Other Uses
Compost;  Potash;  Tannin.

A compost of fern leaves is very beneficial on tree seed beds, aiding germination[20]. The ashes of the plant are rich in potash and has been used in making soap and glass[4]. An effective ground cover plant. Although it is usually deciduous, its decaying fronds make a good weed-suppressing mulch in the winter[200]. Space the plants about 60cm apart each way[208]. The roots contain about 10% tannin[223].
Cultivation details
Landscape Uses:Border, Container, Ground cover, Massing, Rock garden, Specimen, Woodland garden. Prefers an acid to neutral soil, succeeding in ordinary fertile soil in a shady position[175, 200]. Succeeds in poor soils[208]. Succeeds in full sun but grows best in a shady position with only 2 - 3 hours sun per day[200]. Tolerates a pH range from 4.5 to 7[200]. Dislikes heavy clay[1]. Prefers a good supply of water at its roots[1] but succeeds in dry shade[28] and tolerates drought when it is established[200]. A very hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to about -30°c[200], the plant remains evergreen in the milder areas of Britain[233]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[233]. An aggregate species[17]. There are many named forms, selected for their ornamental value[187]. Special Features: Attractive foliage, North American native, Wetlands plant, Attracts butterflies, There are no flowers or blooms.
Spores - can be sown at any time of the year in a greenhouse. Surface sow on a sterilised compost and keep moist, possibly by placing the pot in a plastic bag. Germinates in 1 - 3 months at 20°c. Pot up small clumps of the plants when they are large enough to handle and grow on in a shady part of the greenhouse until large enough to plant out. Division in spring. Larger clumps can be replanted direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them on in a cold frame until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the spring.
Other Names
Found In
Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :
Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameEdibility RatingMedicinal Rating
Dryopteris barbigera 04
Dryopteris blandfordii 04
Dryopteris carthusianaNarrow Buckler Fern, Spinulose woodfern24
Dryopteris crassirhizomaCrown Wood-Fern14
Dryopteris cristataCrested Wood Fern04
Dryopteris dilatataShield Fern24
Dryopteris expansaSpiny Wood Fern, Spreading woodfern23
Dryopteris filix-masMale Fern24
Dryopteris fragransFragrant Woodfern10
Dryopteris marginalisMarginal Woodfern, Leather Wood Fern04
Dryopteris odontoloma 04
Dryopteris oreadesMountain Male Fern04
Dryopteris schimperiana 04
Dryopteris sieboldii 10


Print Friendly and PDF
Expert comment
Botanical References
Links / References
For a list of references used on this page please go here
Readers comment
Roger B Hutchins   Sat Jun 24 2006
I have noticed a tiny larva that eats the spore holders on Male fern in the Tavistock area in Devon. The insect is hard to find as it coveres itself in a bundle of brown hairs. I have found that if a frond containg these larvae is placed on a warm garden table the insects wriggle out.Can any one tell me what is the adult insect, and is it found all over
QR Code

What's this?

This is a QR code (short for Quick Response) which gives fast-track access to our website pages. QR Codes are barcodes that can be read by mobile phone (smartphone) cameras. This QR Code is unique to this page. All plant pages have their own unique code. For more information about QR Codes click here.

1. Copy and print the QR code to a plant label, poster, book, website, magazines, newspaper etc and even t-shirts.
2. Smartphone users scan the QR Code which automatically takes them to the webpage the QR Code came from.
3. Smartphone users quickly have information on a plant directly for the pfaf.org website on their phone.
Add a comment

If you have important information about this plant that may help other users please add a comment or link below. Only comments or links that are felt to be directly relevant to a plant will be included. If you think a comment/link or information contained on this page is inaccurate or misleading we would welcome your feedback at [email protected]. If you have questions about a plant please use the Forum on this website as we do not have the resources to answer questions ourselves.

* Please note: the comments by website users are not necessarily those held by PFAF and may give misleading or inaccurate information.

To leave a comment please Register or login here All comments need to be approved so will not appear immediately.

Subject : dryopteris filix-mas  

Plant Uses

Edible Uses
Medicinal Uses
Other Plant uses
Woodland Gardening
Why Perennial Plants?
Top Edible Plants
Top Medicinal Plants
Garden Design

Twiter      Facebook


Content Help
Support Us
Old Database Search
About Us
Sign In

Stay informed about PFAFs progress,
challenges and hopes by signing up for
our free email ePost. You will receive
a range of benefits including:
* Important announcements and news
* Exclusive content not on the website
* Updates on new information &
functionality of the website & database

We will not sell or share your email address.
You can unsubscribe at anytime.