The male fern is a perennial herbaceous plant that grows to a length of 30 to 100 centimetres. The short, thick rootstock spawns multiple thin rhizomes and a cluster of large, dark-green bipinnate leaves that measure up to 100 centimetres in length. The young leaves are twisted and grow from the top. In late summer, clusters of structures containing spores ("sori") develop in two rows on the lower surface of the mature blade.
The male fern spreads by means of spores and grows in damp, shady forests. It is common throughout the temperate Northern Hemisphere.