The spiny wood ferns fronds are clustered, erect and spreading to 1 m tall. The rhizomes are stout and covered with brown scales. The fronds are scaly at the base with the blades being broadly triangular to egg-shaped to broadly oblong. They like to grow in moist forests, shaded open areas and scree slopes from low elevations to sub alpine in the Pacific Northwest.
The raw rhizomes are bitter, but when cooked, they are very sweet tasting. The rhizomes of the spiny wood fern were dug up around the end of September. At this time, the rhizomes are surrounded by scaly, finger-like projections, which are actually the beginning of next year’s growth.
If the projections are flat and dark inside, the rhizomes are not good to eat; but if they are round, fleshy and light-colored, the rhizomes are edible. They were cooked overnight in steaming pits or steamed in kettles. The finger-like projections could be broken off, peeling like bananas and eaten with grease or fermented salmon roe.
Some people compare the taste of spiny wood fern rhizomes to that of sweet potatoes.