How to Know the Ferns (7th ed)/Group II

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How to Know the Ferns, 7th ed. by Frances Theodora Parsons
Group II.




Osmunda regalis

New Brunswick to Florida, in swampy places. Two to five feet high, occasionally taller.

Sterile fronds.—Twice-pinnate, pinnæ cut into oblong pinnules.

Fertile fronds.—Leaf-like below, sporangia forming bright-brown clusters at their summits.

Perhaps this Royal or Flowering Fern is the most beautiful member of a singularly beautiful group. When its smooth, pale-green sterile fronds, grown to their full height, form a graceful crown which encircles the fertile fronds, it is truly a regal-looking plant. These fertile fronds Royal Fernare leaf-like below, and are tipped above with their flower-like fruit-clusters.

Like its kinsmen, the Royal Fern appears in May in our wet woods and fields. The delicate little croziers uncurl with dainty grace, the plants which grow in the open among the yellow stars of the early crow-foot, and the white clusters of the spring cress being so tinged with red that they suffuse the meadows with warm color.

Though one of our tallest ferns, with us it never reaches the ten or eleven feet with which it is credited in Great Britain. The tallest plants I have found fall short of six feet. Occasionally we see large tracts of land covered with mature plants that lack a foot or more of the two feet given as the minimum height. This tendency to

a Pinnule of Royal Fern b Showing veining
depauperization one notices especially in dry marshes near the sea.

To the Royal Fern the old herbalists attributed many valuable qualities. One old writer, who calls it the "Water Fern," says: "This hath all the virtues mentioned in other ferns, and is much more effective than they both for inward and outward griefs, and is accounted good for wounds, bruises, and the like."

The title "flowering fern" sometimes misleads those who are so unfamiliar with the habits of ferns as to imagine that they ever flower. That it really is descriptive was proved to me only a few weeks ago when I received a pressed specimen of a fertile frond accompanied by the request to inform the writer as to the name of the flower inclosed, which seemed to him to belong to the Sumach family.

The origin of the generic name Osmunda seems somewhat obscure. It is said to be derived from Osmunder, the Saxon Thor. In his Herbal Gerarde tells us that Osmunda regalis was formerly called "Osmund, the Waterman," in allusion, perhaps, to its liking for a home in the marshes. One legend claims that a certain Osmund, living at Loch Tyne, saved his wife and child from the inimical Danes by hiding them upon an island among masses of flowering ferns, and that in after years the child so shielded named the stately plants after her father.

The following lines from Wordsworth point to still another origin of the generic name:

"—often, trifling with a privilege
Alike indulged to all, we paused, one now,
And now the other, to point out, perchance
To pluck, some flower, or water-weed, too fair
Either to be divided from the place
On which it grew, or to be left alone
To its own beauty. Many such there are,
Fair ferns and flowers, and chiefly that tall fern,
So stately, of the Queen Osmunda named;
Plant lovelier, in its own retired abode
On Grasmere's beach, than Naiad by the side
Of Grecian brook, or Lady of the Mere,
Sole-sitting by the shores of old romance."

The Royal Fern may be cultivated easily in deep mounds of rich soil shielded somewhat from the sun.


Osmunda Claytoniana

Newfoundland to North Carolina, in swampy places. Two to four feet high.

Sterile fronds.—Oblong-lanceolate, once-pinnate, pinnæ cut into oblong, obtuse divisions, without a tuft of wool at the base of each pinna.

Fertile fronds.—Taller than the sterile, leaf-like above and below, some of the middle pinnæ fruit-bearing


The Interrupted Fern makes its appearance in the woods and meadows and along the roadsides in May. It fruits as it unfolds.

At first the fruiting pinnæ are almost black. Later they become golden-green, and after the spores are discharged they turn brown. They are noticeable all summer, and serve to identify the plant at once.

In the absence of the fertile fronds it is often difficult to distinguish between the Cinnamon Fern and the Interrupted Fern.

The sterile fronds of the Interrupted Fern are usually less erect, curving outward much more noticeably than those of the Cinnamon Fern. Then, too, its pinnæ are cut into segments that are more obtuse, and the whole effect of the frond is more stubby.

But the most distinguishing feature of all is the tuft of rusty wool which clings to the base of each pinna of the sterile fronds of the Cinnamon Fern. These tufts we do not find in the Interrupted Fern, though both plants come into the world warmly wrapped in wool.

The Interrupted Fern is a peculiarly graceful plant.


a Clusters of sporangia b Showing veining

Interrupted FernIts fertile fronds, standing quite erect below but curving outward above the fruiting pinnæ, are set in a somewhat shallow vase formed by the sterile fronds, which fall away in every direction.

In the fall the fronds turn yellow, and at times are so brilliant that they flood the woods with golden light.

Like the other Osmundas, the Interrupted Fern is easily cultivated.


Lygodium palmatum

Massachusetts and southward, in moist thickets and open woods. Stalks slender and twining.

Fronds.—Climbing and twining, one to three feet long, divided into lobed, rounded, heart-shaped, short-stalked segments; fruit-clusters, growing at the summit of the frond, ripening in September.
The Climbing Fern is still found occasionally in moist thickets and open woods from Massachusetts southward, but at one time it was picked so recklessly for decorative purposes that it was almost exterminated.

In 1869 the legislature of Connecticut passed for its protection a special law which was embodied in the revision of the statutes of 1875, "perhaps the only instance in statute law," Dr. Eaton remarks, "where a plant has received special legal protection solely on account of its beauty."

I have never seen the plant growing, but remember that when a child my home in New York was abundantly decorated with the pressed fronds which Part of fertile pinnule had been brought from Hartford for the purpose. Even in that lifeless condition their grace and beauty made a deep impression on my mind.

Mr. Saunders has described it as he found it growing in company with Schizæa, in the New Jersey pine barrens:

"Lygodium palmatum ... is one of the loveliest of American plants, with twining stem adorned with palmate leaflets, bearing small resemblance to the popular idea of a fern. It loves the shaded, mossy banks of the quiet streams whose cool, clear, amber waters, murmuring over beds of pure white sand, are so characteristic of the pine country. There the graceful fronds are to be found, sometimes clambering a yard high over the bushes and cat-briers; sometimes trailing down the bank until their tips touch the surface of the water.

"The Lygodium is reckoned among the rare plants of the region—though often growing in good-sized patches when found at all—and is getting rarer. Many of the localities which knew it once now know it no more, both because of the depredations of ruthless collectors, and, to some extent, probably, the ravages of fire. The plant is in its prime in early fall, but may be looked for up to the time of killing frosts."


Ophioglossum vulgatum

Canada to New Jersey and Kentucky, in moist meadows. Two inches to one foot high.

Sterile portion.—An ovate, fleshy leaf.

Fertile portion.—A simple spike, usually long-stalked.

The unprofessional fern collector is likely to agree with Gray in considering the Adder's Tongue "not common." Many botanists, however, believe the plant to be "overlooked rather than rare." In an article on O. vulgatum, which appeared some years ago in the Fern Bulletin, Mr. A. A. Eaton writes:

"Previous to 1895 Ophioglossum vulgatum was unknown to me, and was considered very rare, only two localities being known in Essex County, Mass. Early in the year a friend gave me two specimens. From these I got an idea of how the thing looked. On the 11th of last July, while collecting Habenaria lacera in a 'bound-out' mowing field, I was delighted to notice a spike of fruit in the grass. A search revealed about sixty, just right to collect, with many unfruitful specimens. A few days later, while raking in a similar locality, I found several, within a stone's throw of the house, demonstrating again the well-known fact that a thing once seen is easily discovered again. On the 23d of last August, while riding on my bicycle, I noticed a field that appeared to be the right locality, and an investigation showed an abundance of them. I subsequently found it in another place. This year, on May 28th, I found it in another locality just as it was coming up, and I have since found three others. I consider it abundant here, only appearing rare because growing hidden in fine grass in old mowing fields, after the red top and timothy have died out, and the finer species of Carex are coming in. A good index plant is the Habenaria quoted. I have never found it except when associated with this plant, on a cold, heavy soil. The leaf is usually hidden, or, if not, is easily passed by for Maianthemum or Pogonia."

In the "Grete Herbal" of Gerarde we read that "the leaves of Adder's Tongue stamped in a stone mortar, and boiled in oyle olive unto the consumption of the juice, and until the herbs be dried and parched and then strained, will yeelde most excellent greene oyle or rather a balsame for greene wounds comparable to oyle of St. John's-wort if it do not farre surpasse it."

It is said that "Adder's Spear Ointment," made from the fresh fronds of this plant is still used for wounds in English villages.

The Adder's Tongue was believed formerly to



have poisonous qualities, which not only injured the cattle that fed upon it, but destroyed the grass in which it grew.
Rattlesnake Fern


Botrychium Virginianum

Nova Scotia to Florida, in rich woods. One or two feet high, at times much smaller, when it becomes B. gracile.

Sterile portion.—Usually broader than long, spreading, with three main divisions which are cut into many smaller segments, thin, set close to the stem about half way up.

Fertile portion.—Long-stalked, more than once-pinnate.

On our rambles through the woods we are more likely to encounter the Rattlesnake Fern than any other member of the Botrychium group. It fruits in early summer, but the withered fertile portion may be found upon the plant much later in the year. Its frequent companions are the Spinulose Shield Fern, the Christmas Fern, the Silvery Spleenwort, and the Maidenhair.


Botrychium ternatum or dissecium

Nova Scotia to Florida, in moist meadows. A few inches to more than a foot high.

Sterile portion.—Broadly triangular, the three main divisions cut again into many segments, on a separate stalk from near the base of the plant, fleshy.

Fertile portion.—Erect, usually considerably taller than non-fruiting segment, more than once-pinnate.

Sporangia of Botrychium
Of late some doubt has existed as to whether B. ternatum has been actually found in this country, although the standard Floras give no evidence of this uncertainty. Dr. Underwood is convinced that the true B. ternatum is found only in Japan and China, and that our species is really B. dissectum, a species, not a variety. He says that this species is very common in the vicinity of New York City, and thence southward and westward; that it is also found in various parts of New England; that it reaches its fullest development in moist,
Part of sterile portion of B. dissectum

shady woods; that in mossy meadows of New England and Central New York the plant assumes a more contracted habit. He believes its segments are more apt to be divided in shady situations than in open, sunny ground.

The Ternate Grape Fern fruits in the fall.


Botrychium simplex

Canada to Maryland, in moist woods and in fields. Two to four inches high, rarely a little taller.

Sterile portion.—Somewhat oblong, more or less lobed, occasionally 3—7 divided, usually short-stalked from near the middle of the plant, thick and fleshy.

Fertile portion.—Either simple or once or twice-pinnate, taller than the sterile portion.

This little plant is sufficiently rare to rejoice the heart of the fern hunter who is so fortunate as to



stumble upon it by chance or to trace it to its chosen haunts.

It is generally considered an inhabitant of moist woods and meadows, though Mr. Pringle describes it as "abundantly scattered over Vermont, its habitat usually poor soil, especially knolls of hill pastures," and Mr. Dodge assigns it to "dry fields." It fruits in May or June.


Botrychium Lunaris

Newfoundland to Connecticut and Central New York, in dry pastures. Three inches to nearly one foot high. A very fleshy plant.

Sterile portion.—Oblong, cut into several fan-shaped fleshy divisions, growing close to the stem about the middle of the plant.

Fertile portion.—Branching, long-stalked, usually the same height as or taller than the sterile portion.

The Moonwort is another of our rare little plants. It grows usually in dry pastures, fruiting in July.

Formerly it was accredited with various magic powers. Gathered by moonlight, it was said to "do wonders." The English poet Drayton refers to the Moonwort as "Lunary":

"Then sprinkled she the juice of rue
With nine drops of the midnight dew
From Lunary distilling."

Gerarde mentions its use by alchemists, who called it Martagon. In the work of Coles, an early writer on plants, we read: "It is said, yea, and believed by many that Moonwort will open the


locks wherewith dwelling-houses are made fast, if it be put into the keyhole; as also that it will loosen . . . shoes from those horses' feet that go on the places where it grows."

It is to the Moonwort that Withers alludes in the following lines:

"There is an herb, some say, whose vertue's such
It in the pasture, only with a touch
Unshoes the new-shod steed."


Botrychium matricariæfolium

Nova Scotia to New Jersey, in woods and wet meadows. Two inches to one foot high.

Sterile portion.—Once or twice divided, sometimes very fleshy, growing high up on the stem.

Fertile portion.—With several branched pinnæ.

This plant is found, often in the companionship of B. Virginianum, in woods and wet meadows, not farther south than New Jersey. It fruits in summer.


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Botrychium lanceolatum

Nova Scotia to New Jersey, in woods and meadows. Two to nine inches high.

Sterile portion.—Triangular, twice-pinnatifid, with somewhat lance-shaped segments, hardly fleshy, set close to the top of the common stalk.

Fertile portion.—Branching. }}

Like the Matricary Grape Fern, this plant is found in the woods and wet meadows from Nova Scotia to New Jersey. It fruits also in summer.