Osmunda regalis (Royal Fern)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Osmundaceae (Royal Fern)
Life cycle:biennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; swamps, wet woods, stream banks, shallow water
Fruiting season:summer
Plant height:3 to 6 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information


[photo of fiddlehead] Ferns emerging in early spring are densely covered in woolly hair, which is quickly lost.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are twice compound, up to 3 feet long, broadly egg-shaped in outline, the “branches” (pinnule) opposite. The leaflets are about 2 inches long and ¾ inch wide, minutely toothed around the edges, with forked veins, blunt tips, somewhat heart-shaped to nearly straight across the base, and little or no stalk. The leaflets are typically alternate with 7 to 10 on each side of a stem. Stems are brown, slender, slightly grooved on the upper side, initially covered with light brown hairs, becoming smooth with maturity.

Spores: Fruit type: spores on stalk

[photo of fertile fronds] Bead-like capsules containing the spores are attached to a stalk growing at the tip of a leaf (Royal Fern gets its name from this “crown” of capsules at the tip of leaf). The capsules are initially bright green but turn rusty colored then dark brown after releasing the spores.


This species doesn't look much like a fern. It can take on a shrub-like appearance and the leaves look similar to a locust tree or a vetch species. Royal fern can be identified by the double compound leaves and clustered spore capsules at the tip of the leaf. There are 4 or 5 varieties spread across nearly every continent, but only var. spectabilis is recognized in North America, and Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Greg - Carver Park Nature Reserve, Carver County
on: 2014-08-18 11:48:26

This was a long time ago but I had an internship at Lowry Nature Center in 1980 and did a survey of ferns in the park. I found Royal Fern in a couple locations. I had permission to go off trail to find them otherwise the general public is not allowed to go off the trails, so I better not reveal the whereabouts! I'm sure they are probably still growing there.

Posted by: Mike - BWCA - Mora Lake
on: 2017-10-10 09:21:35

Just saw some of this up on the eastern side of the BWCA last week

Posted by: Charles L. Argue
on: 2018-06-16 11:57:16

Now Osmunda spectabilis with O. regalis restricted to plants native to Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-06-16 16:35:04

Charles, it usually takes a while before MN accepts such name changes but it will happen eventually.

Posted by: Brett - Isanti county
on: 2020-09-22 18:31:47

I like this fern for some reason, and have kept track of where I find them. The last two weeks I saw them along the Baptism River near Finland, MN and in Wayside Prairie Park and Crooked Road WMA in Isanti County.

Posted by: Bill - MAHTOMEDI
on: 2022-06-08 19:49:01

I have a bunch growing and spreading about my woods.

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