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Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera)

Life history

Species overview

Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in rich hardwood or mixed conifer-hardwood forests. The optimal identification period for this species is late May through late September.

Synonyms: Dryopteris hexagonoptera, Polypodium hexagonopterum, Thelypteris hexagonoptera


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Wings of the leaf rachis extending down to the lowest pair of pinnae.
  • Flower characteristics:
  • Fruit characteristics: Sori each borne on a vein that continues to the margin.
  • Leaf characteristics: Petiole hairy and sparsely scaly below, smooth above; blade to 4 dm, mostly a little wider than long, twice pinnately cleft, the lowest pair of pinnae the largest, widely spreading; rachis winged throughout; pinnae up to 7 cm wide, veins simple or rarely a few forked.


  • Blooming phenology:
  • Fruiting phenology: middle to late summer
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is late May through late September


  • Growth form: Fern
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Acer saccharum, Pinus strobus, Dryopteris goldiana, Athyrium thelypteroides.

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 Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera). 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 Phegopteris hexagonoptera in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS2
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 rich hardwood or mixed conifer-hardwood forests.
  • Soils: Moist soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Broad Beech 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 Broad Beech Fern. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

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.

Management guidance

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

  • Although maintaining high overall forest canopy is important, silvicultural techniques which open small gaps in the canopy may be beneficial to this species.


Broad Beech Fern Photo.

Photo © John Triana,

Broad Beech Fern Photo.

Photo © Stephen White.

Broad Beech Fern Photo.

Photo by Kevin Doyle, Wisconsin DNR.

Broad Beech Fern Photo.

The tissue between the lowest two pairs of pinnae is continuous in P. hexagonoptera but discontinuous in the similar P. connectilis (despite the confusing name).

Photo by Kevin Doyle, Wisconsin DNR.

Broad Beech Fern Photo.

Photo © Chris Noll.

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