Plant Guide > Ferns > Common Polypody Fern

Common Polypody Fern


Ctenopteris vulgaris

The name Polypodium Vulgare is formed from two Greek words, signifying Many footed, on account of the many rootlets thrown out from the caudex.

It is one of the commonest and best known of our British ferns. It has thick woody creeping roots. The fronds are about six inches to a foot in height : they are always pendent in maturity, broadly oblong, lanceolate in their general outline. The fructification is very conspicuous, and usually at the upper part of the frond, in large circular patches of a golden colour. It is somewhat parasitic in its habit, growing on old trees and on walls and moist rocks.

It is a very generally common fern throughout Great Britain and Ireland, and in Europe, Russian Asia, and North America. Just as the Common Brakes seem to shun the habitation of man, so does the Polypody seem to flourish most in his vicinity, establishing itself on church towers, cottage roofs, and old walls. It especially delights in decaying trees, and may often be seen crowning some perishing trunk with a coronet of green waving leaves.

Like our Common Brakes and many other ferns, the Common Polypody contains a large quantity of potash, which caused it to be used in former days by glass manufacturers. It had also a reputation as a medicine, its mucilaginous nature recommending it in pulmonary diseases. In Paris, even now, it is used as a domestic remedy for colds and coughs. Mr. Newman says he has seen women collecting it in Herefordshire as a specific in hooping-cough. It is gathered in October and November, when full of seed: the barren fronds are rejected. It is then hung up in the cottages to dry, and when required for use, is slowly boiled with raw sugar. The poor people call it "Maiden's Hair," or "Golden Locks." The ancient reputation of this species of Polypody is very curious. Pliny says that it is good for chaps on the toes, and also recommends the root dried and powdered to be snuffed up the nose, to consume a polypus. It is doubtless the "rheum-purging polypody" of Shakespeare.

The foreign species of Polypodium are much larger than our own; and in the South Sea Islands there is one which is called by the natives "Pigs-god," and is the presiding deity of these animals.

Dr. Joseph Hooker mentions that, during his residence in India, he frequently partook of shrimp curry, into which the young tops of the common Polypodium entered.

This fern well repays any trouble that may be bestowed upon it. Care must be taken in its removal not to break the fibrous roots, which become entangled with the substances around them. In a greenhouse, or large case suspended in a wooden basket, well covering the roots with moss and leafmould and sand, it forms a beautiful object. Out of doors, too, it is a pleasing addition to the rockery, or stumps of old trees. It does well for bouquets, as it will live a long time in water.