Broad Beech Fern

Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera)

Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera) is a perennial fern with broadly triangular fronds that grow from 25 to 75 cm tall. It occurs only in North America, and is at its northern limit in southern Quebec and Maine, occurring as far west as southeastern Minnesota, and south to Texas and Florida. In Canada, scattered populations have been documented from southwestern Ontario, eastern Ontario, and southern Quebec. Broad Beech Fern prefers rich, undisturbed deciduous forest, particularly mature beech-maple forests. Although it can be found in fresh to dry-fresh deciduous forests, Broad Beech Fern typically occurs in moister situations such as lower valley slopes, bottomlands and even swamps. It can be found in sunnier locations in mature forests, possibly having adapted to grow in canopy gaps in older growth forest. It is nonetheless primarily a shade-tolerant species and is unlikely to withstand major opening of the forest canopy.

Special concern in Ontario

The protection and management of species of special concern is a key part of protecting Ontario’s biodiversity. Biodiversity – the variety of life on Earth – provides us with clean air and water, food, fibre, medicine and other resources that we need to survive. The Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) is the Government of Ontario’s legislative commitment to protecting and managing species of special concern and their habitats. A species is classified as special concern if it lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered or threatened, but may become threatened or endangered due to a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

Government response statements

The management plan for Broad Beech Fern was completed on June 28, 2013. Management plans are prepared for the Government of Ontario based on the current scientific knowledge for each species and identify approaches for the management of species of special concern.

This response statement is the government’s policy response (subsection 12 (5) of the ESA) to the possible actions identified in the management plan. The response statement summarizes the actions that the Government of Ontario intends to take in response to the management plan and the government priorities in taking those actions. The response also reflects the best available knowledge at this time and may be modified if new information becomes available.

Moving forward to protect and manage broad beech fern

Broad Beech Fern is listed as a species of special concern under the ESA. Habitat loss and degradation are considered the most significant threats to Broad Beech Fern in Ontario. Southern Ontario, where the majority of Ontario’s Broad Beech Fern populations occur, is one of the most highly impacted landscapes in Canada. This region has seen great reductions in forest cover, high levels of habitat fragmentation and increased human use within the remaining forest habitat. This is particularly important as Broad Beech Fern is sensitive to direct physical impact and disturbance to the forest canopy and does not do well in younger second growth forest conditions.

Other threats to Broad Beech Fern include competition from invasive species; trampling of plants and soil compaction caused by trail use; changes in hydrology associated with tile drainage and subdivision development; impacts on habitat by White-tailed Deer; changes in forest composition and structure caused by tree diseases and insect pests; and the potential collection of Broad Beech Fern for native plant gardens and other ornamental purposes.

Management goal

The Government of Ontario’s goal for the management of Broad Beech Fern is to maintain or restore populations within its Ontario range so that they are self-sustaining.

Management objectives and actions

Protecting and recovering species at risk is a shared responsibility. No single agency or organization has the knowledge, authority or financial resources to protect and recover all of Ontario’s species at risk. Successful recovery requires inter-governmental co-operation and the involvement of many individuals, organizations and communities.

In developing the government response statement, the Ministry considered what actions are feasible for the government to lead directly and what actions are feasible for the government to support its conservation partners to undertake. Government-led actions are those that the government will directly undertake to protect and manage the species. Governmentsupported actions are those that are endorsed by the government as being necessary for the protection and management of the species. Support for conservation agencies, municipalities, industry partners and Aboriginal communities to undertake actions will be provided where appropriate through funding, and advisory services.

Focus area: Inventory and monitoring

Objective: Survey and monitor Broad Beech Fern populations and habitat in Ontario.

Government-led management actions

  • Encourage the submission of Broad Beech Fern data to the Ministry’s central repository at the Natural Heritage Information Centre.

Government-supported management actions

  1. Develop a standardized survey and monitoring protocol and implement the protocol to:
    • Identify Broad Beech Fern occurrences in Ontario; and
    • Assess population size and health, reproduction, habitat quality threats and limiting factors at occupied sites.
    Priority: High

Focus area: Protection and management

Objective: Protect and manage extant populations of Broad Beech Fern in Ontario.

Government-led management actions

  • Continue to implement the Ontario Invasive Species Strategic Plan to address the invasive species that threaten Broad Beech Fern.
  • Continue to implement protection for species of special concern and their habitat through management planning processes, including planning for provincial parks and forest management on Crown land.
  • Encourage municipalities to consider the habitat of Broad Beech Fern as significant wildlife habitat and/or significant woodland under the Provincial Policy Statement.
  • Encourage planning and environmental authorities to consider the conservation of Broad Beech Fern in management planning and decision making.

Government-supported management actions

  1. Protect, restore and rehabilitate forest habitat connectivity surrounding Broad Beech Fern habitat.
    Priority: Medium

Focus area: Research

Objective: Address key knowledge gaps relating to minimum viable population size, life cycle requirements, habitat requirements, and prioritization of threats.

Government-led management actions

  • Continue forest pest monitoring programs in Southern Ontario (e.g., gypsy moth population monitoring and outbreak prediction).

Government-supported management actions

  1. Conduct research to determine minimum viable population size requirements.
    Priority: Low
  2. Conduct research to examine the effects of varying levels of canopy removal on Broad Beech Fern.
    Priority: High
  3. Conduct research to better understand the biology of the species (e.g., spore productivity, reproductive success, dispersal mechanisms), and habitat requirements (and impact of canopy removal) for successful reproduction and dispersal.
    Priority: High

Focus area: Awareness

Objective: Increase awareness of the conservation status and needs and promote stewardship of Broad Beech Fern in Ontario.

Government-led management actions

  • Undertake communications and outreach to increase public awareness of species at risk in Ontario.

Government-supported management actions

  1. Develop and implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) for appropriate forest and watershed management for Broad Beech Fern habitats (example: maintenance for forest cover and connectivity).
    Priority: High
  2. Develop and distribute information materials to inform land managers and land owners about the significance, biological needs and stewardship of Broad Beech Fern.
    Priority: High

Implementing actions

Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario, and the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program. Conservation partners are encouraged to discuss project proposals related to the actions in this response statement with the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Implementation of the actions may be subject to changing priorities across the multitude of species at risk, available resources and the capacity of partners to undertake recovery activities. Where appropriate, the implementation of actions for multiple species will be co-ordinated across government response statements.


We would like to thank all those who participated in the development of the “Management Plan for Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera) in Ontario” for their dedication to protecting and managing species of special concern.

For additional information

Visit the species at risk website
Contact the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
Toll-free: 1-800-565-4923
TTY: 1-855-515-2759