Ferns and Their Common Names

Fern growing always seems to be popular. There are many weird and wonderful species of the fascinating tribe we call ferns. However, as with all things popular and especially in the plant world… common names abound.

Below is a list “Common Names for Ferns” some go worn the name for decades and others we hear of only when we live in the areas they grow as “natives.”

ADDERS TONGUE FERN – Common name for Ophioglossum, a genus of ferns native throughout most of US and a possible, though somewhat difficult, subject for garden or terrarium, a family of ferns sometimes planted as curiosities. From a brief fleshy rootstock arises an erect, entire, ovate-or-kidney-shaped sterile blade, and a taller fertile blade altered into a naked stipe terminating in a narrow cylindrical fruiting spike formed of two rows of naked spore clusters. The common species, Ophioglossum vulgatum, 2 to 12 ins, high, with a sterile blade attracted halfway on the fruiting stalk, grows in moist pastures and meadows, rarely on dry slopes, and because of its size is difficult to locate ; not recommended except for experienced fern growers. Needs damp, heavy soil and half-shade, preferably with low-growing wild flowers. Ophioglossum vulgatum minus, a smaller, North East variety, does better in sandy soil.

ALICES FERN – A local name for Lygodium palmatum, or the Climbing Fern.

BALL FERN – Common name for the genus Davallia.

BEARS-FOOT FERN – Common name for Davallia tyermanni fern.

BEARS-PAW FERN – Common name for Polypodium meyenianum, an interesting fern for culture in large baskets, in peaty soil. The upper part of its frond, fertile and contracted, suggests an open claw.

BEECH FERN – Common name for North American species of the genus Phegopteris. They are small deciduous ferns, useful for underplanting in woods soil, well drained.

BERRY (or BULBLET) BLADDER FERN – Common names for Cystopteris bulbifera, a hardy garden species of fern.

CALIFORNIA CHAIN FERN – Common name for Woodwardia radicans, a very tall, hardy fern of the Far West, with arching fronds. Best grown in fibrous peaty soil.

DAGGER FERN (Polystichum nistatam). A tall fern of the Far West, with simple pointed pinnae of coarse texture, good for the garden in woods soil and shade. The name is used also for other species of Polystichum.

DEER FERN (Lomaria spicant) – An erect rigid comb-like fern, not native to this country, but excellent for the cool greenhouse or for the garden in mild moist sections, where it needs shaly or gravelly soil.

ELEPHANTS EAR FERN (Acrostichum crinitum) – A greenhouse fern with broad entire fronds, 1 to 2 ft. long; requires fibrous soil and constant care.

ELK (or STAGS) HORN FERN – Common name for the large-leaved, deeply forked ferns of the genus Platycerium, excellent for greenhouse and house culture.

FELT FERN (Cyclophorus lingua) – One of a genus of ferns suitable for green, house cultivation, having simple, oblong, or linear fronds, 6 to 10 ins. tall, rarely lobed, and rather fleshy and hairy. The rooting stems require shallow pots, as they creep on the surface. Provide peaty soil with some coarse sand.

FLOATING FERN – Common name for Ceratopteris, a genus of small ferns chiefly of the tropics, having inflated stipes with large air cells and succulent fronds. Found in ditches and swamps, and suitable only for specialized greenhouse conditions.

HACKSAW FERN (Doodia lunulata) – A small fern for the cool greenhouse, compact, liking shade, and excellent for edging. Fronds reddish when young.

HARD FERN (Lomaria spicant) – A small fern hardy in mild sections of the US though not native. The bright green, rigid, comb-like fronds are fine for cutting. Prefers a gravel soil.

HARES-FOOT FERN (Davallia canariensis) – A cool greenhouse or indoor fern, having broad fronds about a foot long and furry rhizomes. Best grown in peat and sand in shallow, wide pots.

HARTFORD FERN (Lygodium palrnaturn) – The only North American climbing fern, now rare. Bears palm-shaped blades at intervals on twining rachids. Requires rich acid soil of porous texture, and the shade of other low plants.

HARTS TONGUE FERN – Common name for Phyllitis scolopendritun, a fern found frequently in Europe but only at three known “stations” in the US and in Ontario.

HAY-SCENTED FERN (Dennstedtia punctilobula) – A graceful pale green, delicately cut American fern, common in pastures and rocky open woods ; best for naturalizing because of its rampant habit. Also known as Boulder Fern.

JAPANESE CLAW FERN – Common name for Onychium japonica’s, also called Carrot Fern. The botanical name (from the Greek word for “nail”) refers to the recurved and claw-like segments of the fertile fronds. A delicate, fennel-like fern for cool greenhouse and ideal living-room conditions, it has fronds 1 to 2 ft. long. 4-pinnate, with pointed segments bright green in color. The fruit-dots are in a continuous line, partly concealed by the re-flexed margin of pinnules. Rootstock creeping. Pot loosely in leafmold, fibrous loam, and sand, keeping the crowns well above surface, the fronds free from direct water, and the plants in shade.

JAPANESE SHIELD FERN (Dryopteris erythrosora). A broadly triangular 2-pinnate fern, 2 to 3 ft. tall, not native to America but hardy as far North as New York. Its variegated coloring when young and its glossy green when mature make it desirable in the fern garden. Needs woods soil of peaty texture.

LADDER FERN A common name for various types Nephrolepis (Boston fern).

LADY FERN (Athyrium asplenoides) – A species of robust American ferns with finely cut fronds, succeeding in ordinary garden soil, but especially enjoying woods soil and a little lime. From 2 to 4 ft. tall, it often spreads rapidly.

MAIDENHAIR – Name given to any fern of the genus Adiantum, the name probably being due to the delicate dark-brown or purplish-black branching stripes. They are among the best known and loveliest hardy and greenhouse foliage plants. One species is hardy North of Washington, and others southward. Dealers list many varieties, but only the most dependable are listed under the generic name in this work.

NARROW-LEAVED SPLEEN-WORT – Common name for Athyrium angustifolium, a desirable species of fern for gardens, to be planted in woods soil.

OAK FERN – Common name for the genus Phegopteris.

OAK-LEAVED FERN – A name sometimes given to the Sensitive Fern.

PARSLEY FERN (Cryptogratnnia acrostichoides) – A small rock fern of the North States, with narrow pod-like segments on the fertile fronds and parsley-like barren fronds.

QUEEN FERN – (Pteris ensiformis var. ziictoriae) – An Australian brake, excellent for warm greenhouse conditions, growing 12 to 18 in. tall.

RATTLESNAKE FERN (Botrychium virginianum) – The largest and commonest American species of the Grape Ferns, with a single, triangular, and deeply cut blade, and a separate fruiting spike. Suitable for shaded locations in woods soil.

SILVER FERN – A name given to species of the genera Cheilanthes, Gymnogramma, and Notholaena on account of the silvery whitish powder or hairs that cover the under side of the fronds and retard evaporation, as they are all native to rather dry climates. Suitable for cool greenhouse, except in the South West, where some are native and can be grown outdoors. Water from below only and give plenty of indirect light.

TAPER FERN (Thelypteris noveboracensis) – A light colored, deciduous fern of the North East States, with 18-in. once-pinnate fronds, narrowed below. Growing in dense colonies in open woods, it is ideal for naturalizing in moist well-drained soil and semi-shade but apt to over-run the garden.

TEA FERN (Pellaea ornithopus) – A small wiry, 3-divided fern of South California, with fruit-dots marginal under the overlapping lobes. For gravelly soil in that region, or for the cool greenhouse.

TENDER HOLLY FERN (Cyrtomium falcalum) – An excellent and reliable indoor and cool greenhouse fern, with once-pinnate fronds, 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 ft. tall, of rapid growth. The pinnae are broadly sickle-shaped and glossy dark green and the stipes are clothed with light brown scales. The ideal soil is leaf mold, peat and sand in equal parts. Do not pot tightly; water sparingly in winter, and rest occasionally in a cool dark place.

TSUSIMA HOLLY FERN (Polystichum tensemense) – A slender Japanese Shield Fern with dark green fronds, suitable for the cool greenhouse, and preferring a soil containing clay.

TUNBRIDGE FERN (Hymenophyllum tunbridgensis) – A very delicate little plant of the Filmy Fern Family, with forking pinnae. Needs a moist atmosphere, shallow soil and sandstone chips. The best place for it is the terrarium.

UMBRELLA FERN – A name for species of Gleichenia, a tropical genus of ferns for the cool greenhouse. They have uniquely branching, spoke-like fronds, from 1 to 6 ft. long, and require rough peat and sand, and plenty of indirect light and air.

VENUS-HAIR FERN – A name for Adiantum capillus-veneris, an attractive fern of mild climates also known as Southern Maidenhair.

WATER FERN – Common name for Ceratopteris, a genus of small tropical and subtropical ferns, with inflated fronds, suitable only for expert greenhouse cultivation.

WALL FERN (Polypodium virginianum) – A small and vigorous fern abundant locally in rocky woods in the East States, and easily cultivated in the garden. The fronds, 6 to 12 in. tall, are once-pinnate or nearly so, from densely matted creeping stems. Especially useful for wall gardens and rock slides, preferring limestone and requiring moisture. In transplanting from the wild do not tear, but cut the rooting stems.

WALKING FERN (Camptosorus rhizophyllus). A curious rock fern of the East States, having 4- to 12-in. fronds, long, simple, and narrowed to a tip that often takes root and produces a new plant. Thus large colonies are formed on mossy boulders. The fruit-dots arc narrow-oblong, scattered at random. Excellent in the rock garden, in shade, moisture, and rich woods soil with some lime.

VERONA FERN. A very feathery form of the Boston Fern, with pale green fronds 8 to 12 in. long; one of the best house plants. Give Northern light and porous soil and water only as necessary.

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