AppearanceLicorice fern does not grow its fronds from a centralized location; this is contrast to other ferns that grow their fronds from the same spot. The name ''Polypodium'' refers to this characteristic—it means "many-footed." The fronds are once-divided and triangular in shape, with finely toothed margins and pointed leaflets. They are usually at least one foot in length, but may grow to be over two feet long. They also display parallel venation. The rhizome is creeping and the fronds appear to have random placement, originating at various points. The rhizome appears reddish-brown, and is a sweet licorice-flavored. The name ''glycyrrhiza'' refers to this flavor--''glykys'' in Greek means sweet, with ''rhiza'' meaning root. Since it is a fern, ''P. glycyrrhiza'' reproduces by spores; the spores grow in a pattern of spots on the undersides of the leaves. These sori may be oval in immaturity. Licorice fern may grow over the ground, rocks, or as an epiphyte. The plant prefers moist environments, so it is typically found on wet ground, rocks, and logs. Occasionally it can be seen on fallen trees. It is very often associated with Acer macrophyllum. The fern is mycorrhizal, meaning it can form root associations with the hyphae of fungi.
The sweet flavor of the rhizome was once attributed to the glycoside glycyrrhizin. However, a study has shown that the flavor may actually be due to polypodoside, which is 600 times sweeter than 6% sucrose solution.
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