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Braun's Holly-fern (Polystichum braunii)

Life history

Species overview

Braun's Holly-fern (Polystichum braunii), a Wisconsin Threatened plant, is found in the rich, hardwood or mixed conifer-hardwood forests near ravine bottoms. It is also often found in areas of cold air drainage, on gentle to moderately steep rocky forested slopes, and at the bases of moist cliffs. This species can be identified year-round.

Synonyms: Aspidium braunii, Polystichum braunii ssp. purshii, Polystichum braunii var. purshii


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Pinnae pinnately parted, the larger ones with 9 or more pairs of pinnules.
  • Flower characteristics:
  • Fruit characteristics: Sori in a single row on each side of the midrib; indusium pale, slightly lobed.
  • Leaf characteristics: 3 to 9 dm, petiole 13 to 18 cm, densely scaly; blade lanceolate, 7 to 17 cm wide, tapering to a sharp point at the tip, reduced below, essentially bipinnate; pinnae in 30 to 40 pairs, tapering to a sharp point at the tip, alternate above, the lower nearly opposite; pinnules in 9 to 15 pairs on the larger pinnae, ovate and triangular to oblong, acute, with tiny incurved teeth along the margins.


  • Blooming phenology:
  • Fruiting phenology: mid summer
  • Optimum time to identify: This species can be identified year-round


  • Growth form: Fern
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Acer saccharum, Betula alleghaniensis, Tilia americana, Tsuga canadensis, Athyrium thelypterioides, Ostrya virginiana, Dryopteris carthusiana, D. intermedia, Cystopteris bulbifera, Asarum canadense, Erythronium americanum.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Braun's Holly-fern (Polystichum braunii). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Polystichum braunii in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusTHR
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS3
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in the rich, hardwood or mixed conifer-hardwood forests near ravine bottoms. It is also often found in areas of cold air drainage, on gentle to moderately steep rocky forested slopes, and at the bases of moist cliffs.
  • Soils: Neutral soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Braun's Holly-fern. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Braun's Holly-fern. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological landscape score
North Central Forest 3
Superior Coastal Plain 1

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid direct disturbance to sensitive microsites such as seeps, cliffs, and moss-covered boulders.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Buffer management around unique microhabitats such as ephemeral ponds, seeps, etc.
  • Follow BMPs, especially around streams and use care near ravines, steep slopes, cliffs, rock outcrops, etc.


Braun's Holly-fern Photo.

Braun's holly-fern is a shade-loving forest habitat specialist that grows on moist cliffs and on the margins of rocky, high-gradient, perennial headwaters streams.

Photo by Eunice Padley, Wisconsin DNR.

Braun's Holly-fern Photo.

Photo © R.C. Moran.

Braun's Holly-fern Photo.

Photo © Emmet Judziewicz.

Braun's Holly-fern Photo.

Photo © Stephen L. Solheim.

Braun's Holly-fern Photo.

Photo © Stephen L. Solheim.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition