Quick facts

Common name(s): scaly male fern, golden-scaled male fern, Western scaly male fern

Scientific name: Dryopteris affinis

Family: Dryopteridaceae

Origin: native

In leaf: usually year round, except in harsh winters

Habitat: woodland, heathland, moorland, open hillsides

What does scaly male fern look like?

Scaly male fern is a large fern, with older specimens developing a dense base which can measure 20–30cm in height and 30–40cm in width. It is a robust, exceptionally tough fern which forms a rosette of erect fronds up to 1.6 metres in length, with dense, golden scales on the stems.

Leaves: light yellow-green initially, with hard fronds, becoming darker later in the year, 60–160cm long. The stem (rachis) at the base of the frond is densely covered in gold/rusty brown, shaggy scales known as remeta. The frond is bipinnate which means that not only is it divided into leaflets (pinnae), but those leaflets are also divided into leaflets called pinnules. The pinnae are broad and rectangular and measure 8–18cm long with the margin that's most toothed close to the tip.

Sori/spores: sori (where spores are stored) have a kidney-shaped covering and measure between 0.5–2mm wide. Spores ripen July to August.

Not to be confused with: other sub-species of scaly male fern, all of which are difficult to distinguish from male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas). However, the scaly male fern tends to be robust and has more evergreen fronds. It also has more pinnae and pinnules and more densely scaly fronds on the stems. A key characteristic is that Dryopteris affinis has a black dot where the pinnae join the stem. 

Where to find scaly male fern

In the UK, scaly male fern is very common and widespread, particularly in the west and north, and in Ireland.

It prefers woodland, shady hedges, stream banks and mountain ledges but tolerates full sun, dry soil and even exposed, windy positions. It also grows in heathland, moorland, in the open on hillsides and mountains and especially among rocks.

Trees woods and wildlife

A sign of ancient woodland

Scaly male fern is an ancient-woodland-indicator plant. If you spot it while you're out exploring, it could be a sign you're standing in a rare and special habitat.

Learn more about ancient woodland
Did you know?

Scaly male fern is used as an ancient-woodland- indicator plant. These species can help identify older woodlands with longer ecological continuity.

Uses of scaly male fern

A number of Dryopteris species have been cultivated for ornamental use in gardens.

Though scaly male fern isn’t documented separately for its medicinal qualities, male fern is: it is one of the most powerful medications available for the treatment of tapeworm.

Threats and conservation

The scaly male fern is not currently considered under threat.