Plant of the day: deer fern

This shy little fern isn’t very common in Marin, but it’s a lovely one to get to know–and where it does grow it’s often abundant. It looks sort of like a small, lean, blunted sword fern–though when you look close it’s really quite different. Deer fern (Blechnum spicant) is interesting because each plant has two different types of fronds–a handful that are fertile, with spores underneath, and the rest which are sporeless and sterile.

The fertile fronds have much narrower leaflets, pared down like the skeleton of a fish. Two rows of deep brown spores coat the underside of the leaflets. Each plant throws up several of these fertile fronds, rising upright above the drooping mound of sterile fronds. These leaves have thick, rounded leaflets that are a bright, darker green above and a paler, duller green beneath.

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