Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Few More Ferns

It's been a few years since I posted anything on ferns. I am way overdue. The first post goes back to when I just started blogging. You can find the other species here, a few ferns

We start our journey with these old rotting beams that once belonged to a coal tipple. Coal was hauled out of the hills behind our campus. During that time a lot of spill occurred. This bottomland is quite acidic due to the slag piles that still exist. A patch of wild Cranberry, probably deposited by migrating birds, used to be found here. It has since been out competed by other plants. One of those is this batch of ferns in the background.

This is Netted Chain Fern, Woodwardia areolata. I consider it uncommon, though it is more widespread in Ohio than I once thought. This is an acid tolerant species that prefers shady bottom woods. Because of the winged center, at first it looks very similar to Sensitive Fern.

Netted Chain has a glossier look than Sensitive, and the frond margins of Netted Chain are unlobed.

Netted Chain gets its name from the many round veins that form a chain like pattern above and below the leaf.

This species sends up its fertile fronds on a separate stalk. These are pictures of last years plants, as this years were not present yet. The sporangia are elongate, forming two lines, also somewhat chain-like. Twenty years ago this species occupied a small 15 foot circle. Being a colony former, it has now spread into a large 100 foot long section of the woods.

Robyn from Wahkeena sent me this from our recent Mothapalooza trip to Adams County. This is Smooth Cliffbrake, Pellaea glabella. The blue-green color is the first thing to stand out. The fronds have their pinnae widely scattered along the stem, and each has an entire margin, sort of like Royal Fern. Many refer to this look as "un-fern-like" in appearance.

Smooth Cliffbrake has a preference for limestone outcrops. It's an evergreen species that looks nearly identical to Purple Cliffbrake, P. atropurpurea. Both have dark purple to black stems. The difference is in the look or feel of the stems. The latin glabella comes from 'glabrous', meaning hairless or smooth.
If this was Purple Cliffbrake, those stems would be completely hairy.

Since there are more ferns at Wahkeena Nature Preserve than any other place I know, I went back for a second round. Sticking with ferns that don't look like ferns, this 'Parsley' looking species is Rattlesnake Fern, Botrychium virginianum. It looks similar to the Cut-leaved Grape Fern, B. dissectum, but that species doesn't come out till late summer or fall.
The common name comes from the arrangement of the sporangia, ball like clusters resembling a rattlesnake tail. The fertile frond grows directly up through the middle of the plant. The leaves are sessile, remaining attached to the main frond. In the other Botrychium species, the leaves have a petiole that branches off the main fertile stalk.

Looking like the top of a plant eaten away by caterpillars, this is the fertile stalk of the Daisy Grape Fern, Botrychium matricariifolium. This is an extremely small plant easily missed unless you are specifically looking for it.

It's a species of rich woods that produces a single frond only. The leaves are divided and resemble those of Ox-eye Daisy.

Sticking with that look of "Is this really a fern?", we find the Adder's Tongue, Ophioglossum vulgatum.

While hiking around Wahkeena, we were keeping an eye out for Pink Lady's Slipper and Puttyroot. Since those orchids have broad basal leaves, it was easy to spot this fern. This species produces a single leaf that somewhat clasps the stem.

This is another species that produces a single stalk. It ends in this sharply pointed tip, shaped like a zipper or the beak of a Sawfish. The cup shaped sporangia hold white spores, which are visible stuck to the green center.

Okay, now that's a fern! Notice how all the fronds tend to arise from a center spot. This is known as a "clump" forming species. This is a large 3 foot fern called Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopleris.

Ostrich Fern is more common in Northern Ohio. The name comes from the resemblance to bird feather plumes. This is a basal shot. The stem is smooth, and the brown area is indented or U-shaped.

You can still see the groove in this upper portion of the stem. Each pinna is very long and may contain up to 60 pairs of leaflets.

Another fern that will grow over 3 foot tall is Bracken, Pteridium aqualium. These aren't the greatest pics to represent this species, but these were struggling a bit in this particular habitat. This fern is found in many countries around the world. I used to see them in early successional forests of White Birch in Michigan. Bracken was the dominant plant of the understory.

It's easy to distinguish, as it grows in a 3-pronged, triangular growth form. The pinnae start out with one basal lobe, similar to Christmas Fern, but with maturity they become much more divided. The early fiddleheads of this species are edible. Once the leaves have spread out like this, the plant becomes carcinogenic.

Bulblet Fern, Cystopteris bulbifera. This is a long narrow fern that often has a curved growth pattern.

Up close the stem is smooth, and the leaflets are serrated, ending in sharply pointed tips. The sori are located in the middle of each pinna.

In the center of the picture, you will notice a round BB or bulbet. These will increase in size and eventually fall off. A new fern will grow from this. Besides the spores, these bulbets will allow the species to spread asexually, or by vegetative reproduction.

At first glance, this looks very similar to the previous species. But you can't identify many ferns with just a quick glance. This is Hay-scented Fern, Dennstaedtia punctilobula. It's a long triangle shaped fern with a lacy appearance. It's a medium sized fern that forms colonies in acid soils.

To some it still looks a lot like Bulblet Fern, but the devil's in the details. The plant is lighter green than other similar looking species. The serrated leaflets are more blunt tipped, like stubby fingers rather than sharp points. The bulbs will be absent underneath, and it has a fuzzier texture. When you rub the fronds some of the pinnae will stick together like this.

The stickiness is due to the gland tipped hairs found throughout the plant. The name comes from the smell of hay when you crush the fronds, especially on dead portions.

As the sori begin to develop, the the tips of each leaflet fold over backward to form the lid of the cup shaped sporangia. In Ohio, this species is most common in the eastern half of the state.

As before, my guide through Wahkeena was Robyn Wright. In order to get some cliff ferns, she wanted me to follow her into the deep dark abyss. That's Robyn Wright-Strauss by the way, not the actress Robin Wright. Had it been Robyn from 'The Princess Bride' telling me to head down this steep hill, I would have yelled.....AS.....YOU.....WISH!!

That was fun, felt like a kid sliding through a water park tunnel. Judging by the leaf accumulation, this is not a frequent method of travel through here. My only concern was getting all that dirt stuck in the crack of my.......camera bag.

Well it was worth it, rock faces covered in a variety of species. This is Common Polypody, Polypodium virginianum (vulgare).

Polypody is evergreen. Each leaflet is widest at the base. They have no petioles, and stay attached to the main stem, forming a slight wing-like pattern.

It appears smooth edged, but up close you can see it has a few serrations on the margin. The sori will turn brown with age. They occur in pairs, opposite the main vein.

Resurrection Fern, P. polypodium, reaches its northern limit in a few southern Ohio counties. It is similar in appearance, but is strictly an epiphyte found growing in trees. The name comes from its ability to shrivel up and look dead during droughts, yet resuming normal growth after a rain.

Fragile Fern, Cystopteris protrusa. This and the next couple species are rather small in stature. The two pictures show that it grows in both the ground and on cliff faces. The leaves are finely dissected and bipinnate, with a look sort of like Dutchman's Breeches or Squirrel Corn.

Fragile Fern was known as C. fragilis, but has since been split into 3 species. The texture of the rhizomes are different between them. One other difference with this species: The leaf veins reach all the way to the ends of each lobe. They stop before the margins on the other two. The spores are produced in June, and are released throughout the summer. The main stipe or stem is weak, and easily broken, hence the common name.

Common on sandstone outcrops, this small fern resembles, and is related to the Walking Fern. This evergreen species is Lobed Spleenwort, Asplenium pinnatifidum.

The fronds are winged at the base and taper into a narrow point. They often curl at the tips. The main difference between this and Walking Fern is the fronds are lobed throughout.

I wonder how many times in the past I have walked right by these, thinking they were just young Adiantum Maidenhair Ferns. It's that circular growth form that can fool you.

It's called Maidenhair Spleenwort, Aspelenium trichomanes. These evergreen ferns are found on rock faces. The leaflets are rounded and usually paired, with wide spaces between them. The margins are wavy.

The stems are black, shiny, and smooth. Those stems appear round, but actually have a raised wing on the edge. You can see it with a hand lens, or feel it with your fingers. By enlarging the previous picture, you may see them on the dead stalks.

Here is Maidenhair Spleenwort with Fragile Fern growing beneath it. There were one or two others I had targeted for this post, but couldn't find. If I do, I'll probably add them later.

One last interesting find for the day was of an archeological nature. This is an ancient rock carving of a ceremonial mask from the Inca culture. To find Inca artifacts this far north is extremely rare. I am sure you are saying, he's full of it. Perhaps I am wrong, it's probably Aztec.


  1. A very interesting post packed with loads of information. I have always loved ferns and what I loved most while visiting the hill stations was to enjoy looking at the ferns that grew everywhere, so many different species.... They did not do very well when I brought them home to be grown in the garden. Probably the climate, soil etc....
    The slide through the water park tunnel looks scary...
    Thank you for sharing this with us. Have a good weekend :-)

  2. Great information, we have a lot of different types of ferns growing around our property located in the SC mountains. check out my pictures of the Netted Chain Fern.

    You have an ice site, lots of good pictures and good information.
    Netted Chain Fern

  3. I find ferns to be difficult to identify. Thanks for the interesting post!

  4. Dennis I am still learning from you my friend, even though I can't walk from my office to yours to quiz you on something. I miss you more than you know my friend, just as you are missed by so many. Thanks for the always great photos, descriptions, and of course the awesome humor. Your Friend and fellow HC Prof, Steve Roley

  5. Thanks for the ID of the Maidenhair Spleenwort. We grew it in California when I was a kid and since I got interested in ground covers for our property here in Oregon, am hoping I can buy this plant to grow here.

  6. Thanks for helping me to decide that I have gigantic ostrich ferns, not bracken ferns, that I have transplanted around my yard. At least, I think my mind is made up! Grammar aside, I was concerned because of a link between bracken ferns and cancers. Since I wish to sleep tonight, I'll cease my explorations. But again, thanks for a most helpful and humorous read!