Excellent question! My East Coast friends had no clue what a Sword Fern was when I mentioned our studio title. “Is it a Game of Thrones thing?” they said…
Sword Ferns were one of the first native plants I learned the name and background of when moving from NYC to Oregon. Polystichum munitum, the Western Sword Fern, is an evergreen, non-seed bearing plant that has graced Earth’s surface for millenia. Abundant in the moist understory of Pacific Northwest conifer forests, their dark green fronds can grow to over five feet tall. Their root systems can even survive forest fires, leading some researchers to believe that these early evolving plants are far older than some of the region’s oldest fir, cedar, and spruce trees.
The Coast Salish people of British Columbia and Washington use sword fern as a pain reliever applied directly to the area of pain and inflammation. As a traditional food source in times of scarcity, the Quileute, Makah, Klallam, Squamish, Sechelt, Haida, and other Native American/First Nations peoples roasted, peeled, and ate the rhizomes. Long sturdy fronds can be utilized in lining salmon baking pits and storage baskets; spread on drying racks to prevent berries from sticking, floor coverings, bedding, dancing skirts and other decorations.
Today, sword ferns are used florists internationally for their ornamental foliage. I can’t tell you what my attraction to this plant is – maybe it is that they’ve outlived the dinosaurs? Maybe the connection of traditional and contemporary ethnobotanical uses? Maybe I like looking down and there they are? Maybe they make excellent arranging greens! Learning about PNW native plants made me feel more at home when I moved across North America and it sparks joy for me to bring that love of plants and nature into people’s lives.