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The common name refers to the practice of gathering the evergreen leaves during Christmas time as a holiday decoration. This attractive fern is fairly easy to identify because of its scaly stalks and leathery leaflets with asymmetrical bases. It is the only member of its genus in Illinois. A related species, Polystichum braunii (Braun's Holly Fern) is typically found in the coniferous forests of northern boreal areas. This latter species has bipinnate or pinnate-pinnatifid leaves and its ultimate leaflets have stout sharp teeth. Thus, it has a very different appearance from the Christmas Fern. Some Asplenium spp. (spleenworts) superficially resemble the Christmas Fern because of their simple-pinnate leaves; their leaflets sometimes have asymmetric bases. However, the spleenworts are smaller in size (up to 1½' tall) and more delicate in appearance; the petioles and rachises of their leaves are not conspicuously scaly and the margins of their leaflets lack the narrow fine teeth of the Christmas Fern.

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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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