Herbs & Plants

Dryopteris Felix-mas

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Botanical Name :Dryopteris Felix-mas
Family: Dryopteridaceae
Genus:     Dryopteris
Species: D. filix-mas
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pteridophyta
Class:     Pteridopsida
Order:     Polypodiales

Synonym:Male Shield Fern.

Common Name :Male fern

Habitat : Dryopteris Felix-mas is native to much of Europe, Asia, and North America. It favours damp shaded areas in the understory of woodlands, but also shady places on hedge-banks, rocks, and screes. It is much less abundant in North America than in Europe.

Its specific epithet filix-mas means “male fern (filix)”, as the plant was thought to be the male version of the female fern, being robust in appearance and vigorous in growth.The semi-evergreen leaves have an upright habit and reach a maximum length of 150 cm (59 in), with a single crown on each rootstock. The bipinnate leaves consist of 20-35 pinnae on each side of the rachis. The leaves taper at both ends, with the basal pinnae about half the length of the middle pinnae. The pinules are rather blunt and equally lobed all around. The stalks are covered with orange-brown scales. On the abaxial surface of the mature blade 5 to 6 sori develop in two rows. When the spores ripen in August to November, the indusium starts to shrivel, leading to the release of the spores.


This species hybridises easily with Dryopteris affinis (scaly male fern) and Dryopteris oreades (mountain male fern).

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. Succeeds in poor soils. Succeeds in full sun but grows best in a shady position with only 2 – 3 hours sun per day. Tolerates a pH range from 4.5 to 7. Dislikes heavy clay. Prefers a good supply of water at its roots but succeeds in dry shade and tolerates drought when it is established. A very hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to about -30°c, the plant remains evergreen in the milder areas of Britain. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer. An aggregate species. There are many named forms, selected for their ornamental value. Special Features: Attractive foliage, North American native, Wetlands plant, Attracts butterflies, There are no flowers or blooms.

Propagation :    
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.

Edible Uses:
Young fronds – cooked A flavour resembling asparagus, broccoli and artichokes. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. The rhizomes can be eaten raw or cooked. They were eaten raw as part of a regime for losing weight.

Medicinal Uses:

Part Used:  Root. An oil is extracted from the rhizome of this Fern, which, as far back as the times of Theophrastus and Dioscorides, was known as a valuable vermifuge, and its use has in modern times been widely revived.

Constituents:  By extraction with ether, Male Fern yields a dark green, oily liquid extract, Oil of Male Fern, containing the more important constituents of the drug. The chief constituents are about 5 per cent of Filmaron – an amorphous acid, and from 5 to 8 per cent of Filicic acid, which is also amorphous and tends to degenerate into its inactive crystalline anhydride, Filicin. The Filicic acid is regarded as the chief, though not the only active principle. Tannin, resin, colouring matter and sugar are also present in the rhizome. The drug has a disagreeable, bitter taste and an unpleasant odour

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. The root contains an oleoresin that paralyses tapeworms and other internal parasites and has been used as a worm expellent. The active ingredient in this oleo-resin is ‘filicin’, roots of this species contain about 1.5 – 2.5% filicin. 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. An oily purge, such as caster oil, increases the absorption of the fern root and can be dangerous. The root is also taken internally in the treatment of internal haemorrhage, uterine bleeding, mumps and feverish illnesses. The root is harvested in the autumn and can be dried for later use. This remedy should be used with caution and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. The root is toxic and the dosage is critical. Pregnant women and people with heart complaints should not be prescribed this plant. See also notes above on toxicity. Externally, the root is used as a poultice in the treatment of abscesses, boils, carbuncles and sores
Other Uses
Compost;  Potash;  Tannin.

A compost of fern leaves is very beneficial on tree seed beds, aiding germination. The ashes of the plant are rich in potash and has been used in making soap and glass. An effective ground cover plant. Although it is usually deciduous, its decaying fronds make a good weed-suppressing mulch in the winter. Space the plants about 60cm apart each way. The roots contain about 10% tannin

Numerous cultivars have been selected for garden use. The species and the cultivar ‘Cristata’ have both gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

Known Hazards :  Although it is found no reports for this species, a number of ferns contain carcinogens so some caution is advisable. 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. 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.

The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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