The Broad Beech Fern is a perennial fern that grows to be approximately 50 cm tall. The leaves (fronds) are green and triangular shaped, and as wide or wider than they are long. The individual leaves (leaflets) that make each fern frond are usually arranged opposite to each other on either side of the main frond stem, but not always. This fern is special in that the leaflets that make up the frond are directly attached to the main frond stem by leaf tissue, rather than a smaller stem of their own. This trait is referred to as a “winged rachis” (meaning “winged” main frond stem). Fronds grow from an underground horizontal stem called a rhizome. The Broad Beech Fern is distinguishable from other fern species in Canada by the leafy edging around the main stem (winged rachis) attaching to each leaflet.
Habitat and Biology:
The Broad Beech Fern is found only in North America, and within Canada it occurs in southern Quebec and southern Ontario. There have been 71 recorded occurrences of the Broad Beech Fern in Ontario, but only 21 of those have been within the last 20 years. The only place this fern can be found in The Land Between is in the remaining forested patches in southern Muskoka.
It is primarily associated with undisturbed, well shaded forests dominated by Maple and Beech, and prefers moist, moderately acidic, nutrient-rich soils. These locations are mainly forests in low lying areas like valleys and swamps. Broad Beech Ferns reproduce sexually in the late summer by releasing spores into the air, or asexually by growing new ferns out of an underground stem. Young fronds, or fiddleheads, surface in May.
Conservation and recovery strategies:
The Broad Beech Fern has been included as a secondary conservation target in the Conservation Action Plans of several regions where it occurs. Measures such as public outreach and habitat restoration are expected to indirectly benefit the Broad Beech Fern. Best Management Practices for the Broad Beech Fern on crown land include maintaining an undisturbed canopy and minimizing soil disturbance. These have been developed and outlined in the Forest Management Guide for Conserving Biodiversity at the Stand and Site Scales.
Why You Should Care:
- Species listed as “Special Concern” such as the Broad Beech Fern are species that are not yet threatened with extirpation or extinction and still have a good chance of recovery. Now is the time to take the necessary steps to prevent this species from further impact or decline.
- A decline or loss of any species is a tragedy, but the Broad Beech fern is one of only 114 species of fern found in Canada, and one of only 75 found in Ontario.
Government of Ontario. 2014. Broad beech fern. Retrieved from: https://www.ontario.ca/page/broad-beech-fern
Government of Canada. 2021. Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera). Retrieved from: https://species-registry.canada.ca/index-en.html#/species/244-435
Georgian Bay Biosphere. N.d. Species at Risk Database: Broad Beech Fern. Retrieved from: https://www.gbbr.ca/species-at-risk/broad-beech-fern/
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