Habit: graceful medium sized fern growing in small compact tufts with creeping short rhizomes. Sterile fronds are evergreen, dark green, and thick, with 35-70 pairs of leaflets, the stalk is glossy purplish brown. The deciduous fertile fronds grow from near the middle of the plant with leaflets much smaller than those on sterile leaves, with some rolled around the clusters of spores.
Ecology: common near the coasts and in moist to wet dense forests, along streambanks, and occasionally in bogs from lowlands to mid elevations.
Growing Conditions: full sun, part shade or dappled light in very rich wet or moist acidic soil. Deer fern is very sensitive to frost.
As a major understory plant, deer fern is an important winter food for deer and elk.