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Click for previous Image Image 1 of 2 Polypodium californicum California polypody

California polypody (Polypodium californicum) in dry shade garden

Polypodium californicum

California polypody

This summer dormant California native fern has light green, leathery, upright fronds about 12-15" tall.  It spreads readily, but not invasively.

Plant name: What it means
The generic name, Polypodium, is from the Greek words polys meaning 'many' and podi meaning 'foot.'  It refers to the numerous knob-like branches of the underground stems.  The specific epithet, californicum, refers to the plant's geographic origin. 

Origin: Natural habitat and range
California polypody can be found from the foothills of southern California through the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada foothills to Humboldt and Butte counties.  It's common on moist, rocky soils and crevices at altitudes below 4,000'.

Growth habit, flowers and foliage
California polypody produces leathery, light green, upright fronds that are about 12-15" long.  The fronds sprout from rhizomes (underground stems) in fall or winter in response to cooler temperatures and rainfall.

California polypody will tolerate some morning sun, but prefers a shady location.  In the wild, you'll often see large drifts of it along banks under oaks.

California polypody's tolerant of many soil types, but needs good drainage otherwise the rhizomes (underground stems) will rot.

Pests and diseases
California polypody doesn't seem to be prone to any diseases.  In the nursery, we've found that snails like the fresh tender frond shoots as they unfurl in fall/winter.

California polypody Growing and Maintenance Tips

California polypody is summer dormant; this is its natural survival mechanism for coping with our long dry summers.  So don't worry when the leaves start to turn brown in the summer; the plant isn't dying, it's just going dormant.  It'll spring back to life in winter in response to cooler temperatures and rain.


12 in


18 in


18 in

Polypodium californicum Characteristics


  • California native

Foliage color

  • Green / Blue-green

Growth habit (plant shape)

  • Upright


  • Morning sun
  • Dense shade
  • Light or dappled shade

Season of interest (foliage)

  • Winter
  • Fall
  • Spring

Your soil type

  • Loam
  • Clay-loam
  • Clay
  • Sandy loam

Water requirements

  • None - Low
  • None

Critter resistance

  • Deer resistant

Suggested uses

  • Under eucalyptus
  • Under redwoods
  • Under CA native oaks
  • Under pine trees
  • Firescaping


  • California

Plants that work well with Polypodium californicum

Western sword fern Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum)
Douglas' iris Douglas' iris (Iris douglasiana)
Yerba buena Yerba buena (Satureja douglasii)
Canyon delight alum root Canyon delight alum root (Heuchera 'Canyon Delight')
California fescue California fescue (Festuca californica)
Martha Roderick's alum root Martha Roderick's alum root (Heuchera micrantha 'Martha Roderick')
Alba Road Western Dog Violet Alba Road Western Dog Violet (Viola adunca 'Alba Road')