Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club/V24/A Revision of the North American Species of Ophioglossum

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Vol. 24. Lancaster, Pa., December 30, 1897. No. 12.

A Revision of the North American Species of Ophioglossum.
(Plates 318–319.)
By Elizabeth G. Britton

The Fourth of July excursion of the Torrey Botanical Club in company with the Philadelphia Botanical Club and the Washington botanists, took place at Wildwood, New Jersey, a flourishing seaside colony about 12 miles from Cape May.   On the afternoon of the 3d, Mr. Joseph Crawford, in company with Mr. Pollard, and Dr. Valery Havard, found a patch of Ophioglossum, between Holly Beach and Wildwood, growing in open woods under holly and oak trees (Q. nana and Q. falcata), in sandy soil where the grass had been cut.  This single colony was the only one found in the region, and contained hundreds of plants, all in mature condition and beginning to turn yellow, thus making the patch a conspicuous object.  All of us who had seen O. vulgatum growing, felt positive that this was not that species nor any other with which we were familiar.  I was delegated to describe and name it and decided to call it, from its habitat, O. arenarium.  I sent a specimen to Prof. Underwood, then at Kew, for comparison; after consulting with Mr. Baker, it was decided that it belonged to the section with O. lusitanicum, which has a similar gregarious habit, but differs in its much smaller size and narrower frond.


PLATE 318.
BTBC Plate 318 - Ophioglossum arenarium E.G.Britton.png

Prof. Underwood has called my attention to a monograph of the genus by Prantl (Jarhb. d. K. Bot. Gart. Berlin, 3: 297-350. 1884), in which two new North American species are described, thus far not included in our text-books, O. Engelmanni and O. Californicum.   These are perfectly distinct, and O. Engelmanni has a wide range, having been found in all the larger herbaria, such as those of Torrey and Gray, Eaton and Underwood, Canby and Gilbert, Engelmann and the National Herbarium.  O. Californicum has thus far been seen only from the type locality at San Diego, California, where it was originally discovered in 1850, and specimens sent to Dr. Torrey by Dr. Parry, and from two other stations.

Through the kindness of Dr. Evans, Dr. Robinson, Dr. Rusby, Prof. Underwood, Mr. Pollard, Mr. Davenport and Prof. Trelease, I have been able to see a large number of specimens of this genus and have been particularly interested in studying the variations of O. vulgatum.   Seven different forms of the sterile lamina can be named as follows:

1. Ovate-amplexicul, acute.

2. Ovate-sessile, obtuse.

3. Oval and elliptical, acute and obtuse.

4. Oblanceolate or obovate with tapering base.

5. Lanceolate and smaller.

6. Rotundate (immature).

7. Linear-lanceolate, occasional.

It seems a little difficult to tell some of the young fronds of O. vulgatum from the mature ones of O. arenarium, and yet the extremes are so different, and the habit and habitat so distinct, that I have concluded to maintain them as separate species.   That O. arenarium has originated from O. vulgatum, and that intermediate forms may be found in young or poorly developed forms of O. vulgatum does not alter the view from the modern standpoint of evolution.

Young and immature specimens of what have been supposed to be O. vulgatum have been collected by a number of American botanists.   In the Torrey Herbarium, unnamed, there is a sheet with six small immature specimens, two bearing fertile spikes and the following note by Dr. Gray:

Ophioglossum n. sp.

  I send you ½ I have and probably shall not be able to procure any more very soon.  15 or 20 specimens were found on a dry hill at Exeter (Otsego Co.) 12 of them in fruit.  A few specimens are in the hands of a friend who first noticed it, Dr. Hadley has a specimen and I sent some to

Beck 2 years ago (the same summer it was discovered).  He has never given an opinion or said a word about it.  I do not know that O. vulgatum or any other species has been found in this section.  It appears to come near O. pusillum Nutt. but that species has frond cordate acute — this has the frond acute at the base and obtuse at the extremity.  These specimens are as large as any that have been found.

If you think it new suppose you publish it. A. G.


Dr. Robinson sent for comparison from the Gray Herbarium the remainder of this same collection.   They agreed perfectly with Dr. Torrey's in their immature condition and are labeled by Dr. Gray,

Depauperate O. vulgatum, Exeter, Otsego Co. Dr. Curtiss.

Inside the packet are two labels; one reads in Dr. Gray's handwriting.

Ophioglossum.   Can it be O. vulgatum?  I am informed it is constantly of this size.

The other reads

It looks different, but still may be small var. of O. vulgatum. It would be desirable to see more specimens.

In searching Dr. Gray's letters I find in his autobiography an account of his early botanizing and collecting from 1828–1830, and that he speaks of showing plants that puzzled him to Dr. Hadley, and of beginning a correspondence with Lewis C. Beck, of Albany, and Dr. Torrey.   While at Utica he spent one summer vacation collecting down the Unadilla to Pennsylvania.  The Unadilla is one of the northern tributaries of the Susquehanna, and forms the western boundary of Otsego County, where these ferns were collected by Dr. Curtiss.  From the letters it would seem to have been about 1830.  None of these specimens are more than 7 cm. high, the petioles 3-5 cm., the blades 2-3 cm. long by 5-10 mm. wide, lanceolate or oval, and the fertile spike is still so undeveloped that it is not more than half the length of the blade, and nearly sessile.  Only two specimens at all like these have been seen from Europe, and they were found in Dr. Gray's and Prof. Eaton's herbaria, collected by Blytt at Christiania, Norway, and are labelled O. vulgatum.  Some of them resemble the young sterile fronds of O. arenarium, especially those which do not bear any fertile spikes, yet the probability is that they are immature O. vulgatum, as similar specimens have been collected in May and June by Stewart H. Burnham at Vaughns, N. Y., and Alvah A. Eaton at Seabrook, N. H.


In the Herbarium of William H. Leggett, there are two sets of specimens collected by Mrs. Lucy A. Millington and a letter from her dated from Glens Falls, October 17, 1873, in which she says:

I have always wished to botanize in North Elba on the sand plains and along their swamps.

  The sand is nearly white in some places and curiously enough there are heavy forests of deciduous trees there as well as some of larch and stunted Balsams.  I enclose all the specimens of Ophioglossum I happen to have at present.  The smallest are very poor ones, for which you may blame our growing village which runs streets into the very hiding places of our shyest plants, Mitella nuda, Antigramma, and this small fern nestling in the grass.  I might, perhaps, have given you better ones.  There is one more form of it which I wished you to see with the rest, where the frond is thick and clumsily shaped as if unfinished.  It seems to lack the delicacy and grace of other ferns in a remarkable degree.  The North Elba specimen is the first Ophioglossum I ever saw and I found but two.  The specimens from Glens Falls are poor, as the ground having been constantly

travelled over in consequence of a street being opened.

The small, immature specimen from North Elba has a broad oval frond, 2 cm. long by 1 cm, wide, and agrees with the broadest of the small ones collected by Dr. Gray.   The specimens from Glens Falls are five in number; the tallest of them is 11 cm. in height with a fertile spike and pedicel 7 cm. long, and they resemble fruiting specimens of O. arenarium.  She also sent Mr Leggett a large specimen of O. vulgatum from Elizabethtown, N. Y, and she says she has found it more common than she expected.

Various intermediate stages of young O. vulgatum have been found in the collections examined.   One of these dwarfed specimens was collected by Prof. Eaton at Brattleboro, Vermont; it is mounted with seven others, grading up in size to the normal form.  Mr. Canby had one small specimen collected at Gilmanton, New Hampshire, by Joseph Blake, and two others from Norway, Maine, collected by S. I. Smith, which are much smaller than normal.  Prof. Engelmann had specimens collected by E. Durand at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1853, with small lanceolate fronds, most of the plants, however, were immature; and Mr. Newlin Williams has collected in low damp woods with Habenaria lacera, at Solebury, Bucks Co., Pa., two specimens which are taller and larger than O. arenarium, but have the lanceolate leaves and narrow venation of that species.  Prof. Macoun has collected on Prince Edward Island, in wet pastures near the sea, four small leathery specimens, which approach O. arenarium in size and shape, but five others from the same locality show them to be O. vulgatum.  Prof. Underwood has collected at Baldwinsville, N. Y., a set of young specimens of O. vulgatum, on June 14, 1890, part of which he pressed and the rest he cultivated in the laboratory until they matured.  The smallest ones, with the shortest petioles and pedicels, had the blade almost round, like those of Dr. Gray and Mrs. Millington.  He also has specimens from White Lake, Jamesville, New York, and West Goshen, Connecticut, which might well be taken for O. arenarium, but at the latter station he found all the intermediate forms which connect with O. vulgatum.  In fact, his herbarium is rich in uncommon and intergrading forms of this species, I have seen one set of small European specimens which are intermediate between O. vulgatum and O. arenarium, and these were collected near Venice by Rigo, and have small ovate-lanceolate blades, and none of them exceed 14 cm. in height.


Mr. Willard N, Clute called my attention to the notes in the Linnaean Fern Bulletin, and told me that at the time that O. vulgatum was distributed to the members of the Fern Chapter, he had been struck by the great variation In the size of this fern.   I wrote to Mr. Stewart H. Burnham, of Vaughns, N. Y., who kindly sent me a very interesting series of variations, the youngest of which, collected in May, 1896, are the exact counterpart of Dr. Gray's small specimens from Exeter.  He also collected on July 7th, in a limestone pasture, small double specimens very closely approaching the Italian specimens collected by Rigo.  Other specimens from the edge of the swamp and from beech woods are the large elliptical and oblanceolate forms of O. vulgatum.  One of them is remarkable for the extreme elongation of the fertile spike beyond the sporangia.