Learn which plants thrive in your Hardiness Zone with our new interactive map!

The Life Cycle of Dryopteris

By Frank Whittemore ; Updated September 21, 2017
Dryopteris are Wood Ferns
"Fern detail" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: net_efekt (Christian Guthier) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.

Dryopteris are ferns consisting of a horizontal root growing in soil called a rhizome and leaves called fronds projecting upward. Each frond is roughly triangular, with branches along either side of a stem with many small oblong leaflets. Frond sprouts are called "fiddleheads" for their resemblance to the head of a violin.

Spore Production

The Drypoteris fern life cycle begins with a spore. On the underside of each frond are tiny, dark spots called sori that contain growths called sporangia that produce and release spores.


Each spore will eventually fall to the ground. Those that germinate will form a gametophyte. The gametophyte will then grow, forming a leaf-like structure that attaches to the ground using root-like rhizoids.

Sex Organs

When the gametophyte matures it produces sex organs.The male organs are called antheridia and the female, archegonia, both of which develop on the bottom surface of the gametophyte.

Sexual Reproduction

The antheridia produce flagellate sperm that will swim through a film of water to the archegonia. The sperm then fertilizes an egg within each archegonium.


The fertilization process will produce a zygote which will then grow from within the gametophyte. Rhizomes will develop beneath the soil and fiddleheads will sprout, shooting up from the rhizome to form a sporophyte.


The fiddleheads of the sporophyte will then unfold into fronds containing more sori. The new sori will eventually release spores, continuing the reproductive cycle.


About the Author


In Jacksonville, Fla., Frank Whittemore is a content strategist with over a decade of experience as a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy and a licensed paramedic. He has over 15 years experience writing for several Fortune 500 companies. Whittemore writes on topics in medicine, nature, science, technology, the arts, cuisine, travel and sports.