Dear fern – Blechnum spicant
The deer fern or Blechnum spicant (Greek for “spiked fern”) can be found in Europe, Japan, Northern Asia, and in the western part of the United States. In the U.S., it is commonly found from southern Alaska to California mostly distributed west of the Cascades; however, it is also found in the panhandle of Idaho. This species grows best in moist, wet conditions in forests and along riverbanks. It needs adequate shade and moisture to thrive. 

The delicate, vibrant green fronds grow erect from the center, cascading out into a half dome shape. It has a single tall stem straight up in the center with delicate leaves that is a favorite food of the deer thus, the name. Each frond looks like rungs on a ladder and new sprouts emerge in a coiled rosette. Plant size ranges from 8 – 20 inches in height and 24 inches in width. Some impressive displays of these ferns can be found in Olympic National Park in the Hoh Rain Forest. Side by side, they blanket the earth with other fern species under the shelter of massive moss-laden Hemlock trees and are enjoyed while hiking the trails in the park. 

These ferns help sustain local wildlife. Besides deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and caribou all enjoy this bountiful treat. Deer ferns are used in medicinal practice by chewing parts of the plant to treat lung diseases and stomach issues. It is also used topically to treat skin lesions. Roots can be cooked, and young tender stems can be peeled and eaten when cooked as an emergency food. The leaves themselves can be chewed on to alleviate thirst, if needed while in the backcountry. Deer ferns can also make wonderful houseplants. They provide a nice addition to any landscape and once the right conditions are met with shade and moisture, the plant is relatively easy to maintain.