Phegopteris connectilis (Long Beech Fern)

Plant Info
Also known as: Narrow Beech Fern, Northern Beech Fern
Family:Thelypteridaceae (Marsh Fern)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; average to moist forests, wooded bluffs, cliffs, rocky banks
Fruiting season:early to mid summer
Plant height:6 to 24 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information


[photo of fiddlehead] Fiddleheads emerge in early spring on slender, purple-brown stems covered in brown scales and scattered hairs.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: compound

[scan of frond] At the top of the stem is a single compound leaf (frond), generally triangular in outline, 6 to 18 inches long and up to 10 inches wide, usually longer than wide, with 12 to 15 pairs of branches (pinnae) oppositely arranged. The central frond stem (rachis) is winged with leaf-like appendages that connect all of the pinnae together, except for a gap above the lowest pair. Pinnae are lance-oblong to narrowly elliptic in outline with a long taper to a pointed tip. The lowest pair are usually largest and angled down with the other pinnae widely spreading. The fronds are held at an angle, sometimes nearly parallel with the ground, and are typically bright green.

[close-up of pinnae lobes and vein pattern] Pinnae are divided into 10 to 20 pair of lobes that are oblong in outline, rounded at the tip, smooth to somewhat scalloped along the edge. Veins are mostly unbranched (simple), sometimes branched or forked especially on lobes near the base or tip. The edges and upper surface are sparsely hairy, the lower mostly hairless but may have scattered yellowish glands especially along the veins. Pinnae stalks (costae) are hairy and sparsely covered in white to dark brown scales on the underside, the white scales fringed with a few hairs early on but becoming darker brown and hairless with age. The frond stalk (rachis) is also hairy with scattered brown scales on the underside.

[photo of lower and upper stem, below the frond] The main stem (stipe) is typically straw-colored at maturity though may be darker purplish-brown at the base. The base is hairless but covered in brown scales, the scales becoming more sparse above, and the stipe becoming hairy near the frond. Plants may form loose clumps and can create large colonies from long, creeping rhizomes.

Spores: Fruit type: spores on leaf

[photo of sori] The sori (group of spores) are found on the underside of the leaf. They are circular and arranged around the edges of a pinnae lobe, at or near the tip of a vein. There may be a few yellowish, short-stalked glands along the keel of an individual spore case. There is no extra tissue (indusium) that surrounds or covers the spores. Spores ripen to dark brown. Not all leaves have spores and there is no visible difference between fertile and sterile fronds.


Long Beech Fern is fairly common in rocky forested areas and reaches the western edge of its range in Minnesota. While small patches of scattered stems are sometimes found, it is not unusual to see it as a dominant ground cover in cool, upland forests, though it may be found in moister ground, too. It is fairly easy to ID from the winged stem except for a gap just above the lowest pinnae pair, and fronds usually longer than wide. It is very similar to the related and rare Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera), which is only present in the southeast corner of the state and has fronds usually about as long as wide with no gap in the wing along the rachis above the lowest pair.

A few more subtle differences exist between the two, which may or may not be reliable in the field. P. connectilis pinnae veins are mostly simple (unbranched) where P. hexagonoptera veins are mostly forked or branched, at least on the larger pinnae. The rachis (central frond stalk) of P. connectilis is hairy and more moderately covered in brown scales, where the P. hexagonoptera rachis is hairy but may only have a few pale scales. The lowest P. connectilis pinnae strongly point downward, where those of P. hexagonoptera are spreading or descending but not as reflexed. Several references note that P. connectilis scale color on the pinnae is tan or brown where P. hexagonoptera is whitish or tan, but we found white scales on numerous P. connectilis specimens that appeared to shrivel up and turn dark brown over time; P. connectilis does have far more scales on the rachis, though. The yellowish, stalked glands are also noted only for P. hexagonoptera, though we found some present on P. connectilis as well (magnification required). The two have been known to hybridize but no hybrids have been recorded in Minnesota.

Note that the gap on P. connectilis is sometimes very short so location within MN may also help with an ID, as will the combination of some of the more subtle characteristics. Case in point: a population we checked in Wisconsin, previously identified as P. hexagonoptera, did have what appeared to be a continuous wing even between the lowest pair of pinnae. However we found no forked veins anywhere, there were abundant brown scales on the rachis, and the lowest pinnae were quite strongly reflexed. After some consideration, we determined it was more likely P. connectilis.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in Banning and Savanna Portage state parks, and in Cook and St. Louis counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: gary - Cook County
on: 2022-07-30 18:46:33

Many colonies in the moist soil along an ephemeral stream near Leveaux Mountain.

Posted by: Karen - Northern Wi
on: 2023-06-01 11:32:26

Are narrow beech fern the same as long beech fern? Hoping someone will answer even though a Wi question. Thank you!

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-06-01 21:36:26

Karen, see the top of the page where it lists other common names "also known as". When looking for plant info it is always best to use Latin names because, unlike birds, there is no standardization of common names for plants.

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