When Ferns Grow on Trees

Licorice ferns in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
Licorice ferns in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

In the depths of winter, an amazing emergence of emerald green ferns appear on cliffs, rocks, and forest tree trucks throughout the coast redwood forest. These delicate beauties are Polypodium glycyrrhiza, commonly known as licorice fern. The species name, glycyrrhiza, means sweet root in Greek and is aptly named because the fern’s rhizome tastes faintly of licorice.

This deciduous fern flushes its leaves when the winter rains begin and by the end of spring its leaves turn brown and are shed. In the summer, you may not even know where these ferns are, as their bare rhizomes are often hidden under moss or fallen leaf duff. It’s always a vibrant sign of winter when licorice fern leaves do appear, so head out to the woods and see it in them all their glory this holiday weekend!

If you love ferns like I do, take a look at my blog post on Winter White Ferns to learn more. Be sure to check out our Redwood Forest Plant ID guide to help you explore your redwood forest.

About the author

Emily Burns, the League’s former Director of Science, led the research program that includes the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. She holds a PhD in Integrative Biology on the impacts of fog on coast redwood forest flora from the University of California, Berkeley.

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