Ferns & fern Allies

Ferns, like mosses, have always had a special appeal for me - perhaps as one tends to find them in abundance in some of my favoured habitats, like lush woodlands. They seems so clean and fresh. It is a pleasure to walk amongst and enjoy ferns, especially in places where few people tread to spoil nature with litter. Unfurling fronds are pleasing to the eye. As with grasses, sedges and rushes, which also do not have 'showy' flowers with familiar floral parts, one must learn about how to distinguish them and be familiar as to which features are important. Many have scales at the bottom of the stalks which need to be examined closely - so if one was gathering a specimen for pressing, these parts of the fern were essential for identification purposes. A number of smaller ferns are to be found in our towns, even cities, especially in churchyards; the walls of buildings providing perfect substrates for the spores to attach to.

Once again, I shall arrange this group of plants in alphabetical order by genus and species.


'Wall-Rue' (ASPELNIUM RUTA-MURARIA); Druce found this locally common on walls but absent from large areas in Buckinghamshire a century ago; first record in Beaconsfield in 1640; nowadays it is considered uncommon in wall interstices but increasing. My field experience suggests it is not uncommon. The image above was taken beside Windsor Central Station

Leaves tufted, persistent, coriaceous, dark dull green throughout except for blackish base of petiole; 2-3-pinnate; segments varying considerably in shape; spores ripe from June to October; as well as walls, found on mainly basic rocks to 700m in British Isles; another widespread species which reaches the Himalaya - common in limestone in Kashmir from 1500-4250m; it is even found in Ladakh and Baltistan

On a railway bridge in Langley




'Broad Buckler-fern' (DRYOPTERIS DILATATA) with dark green blades

Known as 'Broad Shield Fern' (DRYOPTERIS ARISTATA) in Druce's day - he found this fern local in woods, thickets and heaths.

Variable, considered to be an aggregate; leaves 3-pinnate; about 15-25 pinnae on each side

Sori in a row down either side of the segments

Petioles with ovate-lanceolate or lanceolate entire scales which are dark brown in centre, pale brown at the edge and usually dense at base



'Male Fern' (DRYOPTERIS FILIX-MAS); this is a species aggregate with three distinct species morphologically and cytologically but still imperfectly known

Druce found this fern generally distributed in woods, copses, hedges and shady places in Buckinghamshire a century ago

Pinnules or segments c. 15-15 on each side of the longest pinnae, regularly arranged, +/- equal for some distance above the base, oblong, lobes entire or obscurely crenate or serrate

Sori forming a row down each side of pinnule

Immature pale green sori

Spores ripe between July and August

Leaves suberect or +/- spreading, pinnate with deeply pinnatifid pinnae or 2-pinnate

+/- scaly with pale brown or orange-brown uniformly coloured scales



'Hart's-tongue Fern' (PHYLLITIS SCOLOPENDRIUM) - in Druce's day this was rare in woods, hedgebanks, brickwork or village wells and walls of Buckinghamshire a century ago; nowadays it is considered uncommon (I agree) on walls, churchyards, woods and hedgebanks but is increasing. Interestingly, Druce came across this in lane near Langley station - the specimen above was photographed on a railway bridge near Langley station. It is common in the wetter districts of the UK; I recollect seeing a lot in Wales



Also known as 'Brake' (EUPTERIS AQUILINA) in Druce's day; he found this fern as gregarious and aggressive, abundant on suitable soil throughout Buckinghamshire in bushy places, heaths, open woods and parks on sandy or light soils but absent from chalky, stiff clayey and calcareous soil.

Leaves 2-3 pinnate, erect below with blade bent towards the horizontal, pubescent and with numerous brown scales when young; petiole to 2m, dark and tomentose at base; pinnae lanceolate or oblong pectinately arranged

Undersides of fronds; a common fern in Pakistan and Kashmir, usually found between 1800-2700m; dominant over considerable areas formerly occupied by acid grassland or heather, spreading long distance vegetatively and aided by the grazing of sheep or rabbits, neither of which the animals eat and by fire ; I recollect a plant ecology lecture at University about the plant chemically destroying competing vegetation, thus aiding its expansion; it is poisonous to many grazing animals - the plant produces and releases allopathic chemicals which are an important factor in dominating other vegetation.

Fronds unfurling