Friday, May 30, 2008

Fern Pots

A short post tonight is all I can manage, as we're watching Blue Planet; the beautiful footage is just too enthralling and distracting! In the category of fern-inspired, and an add-on to my Fern Craze post, are these ferny pots. Or, more accurately, these "Salopian Art Pottery" vases. I don't know much about them, except that they date from roughly 1880-1910, and their creation was clearly inspired by the delicate fronds that decorate them.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Botrychium virginianum

While in Ithaca I spent a great and productive morning at the Thurber Nature Preserve in McLean, New York, with my friend Robert Wesley of the Cornell Plantations. Robert knew exactly where to go for the ferns I was specifically interested in finding (several species of Dryopteris reside in the woods and swamp), and during the search we also came across some other interesting species, including this Botrychium virginianum. This is the largest individual of this species I've ever seen! They often don't get much larger than my palm, and this one was practically a salad plate! The common name for this group is the Grape Ferns, and this particular one is also known as Rattlesnake Fern. I don't think it takes much imagination to see where those names derive from... the fertile spike emerging amid the triangular sterile frond definitely appears to bear either grapes on a vine or maracas from those rattlin' tails, depending on how you view it. In fact, those green orbs are the sporangia.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Osmunda claytoniana

I am currently in Ithaca, New York visiting friends and family and collecting ferns, and today's post comes to you from the cool confines of Cornell University's L.H. Bailey Hortorium. I've seen a lot of this fern in the past few weeks: Osmunda claytoniana, or the Interrupted Fern. This is a very common fern at this time of year, and is easy to recognize because it looks, well, interrupted. The contracted, usually greenish-brownish, fertile pinnae are found in the middle of the frond, with leafy green sterile pinnae above and below them. This fern can get quite large, and can be found in backyards (the photos above were taken at my advisor's house, and my parents have some around their driveway in New York), along roadsides and streams, and in moist woods throughout the northeast and midwest. Its close relative, the Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomea), looks very similar, has been the subject of recent taxonomic revision, and is a likely future post here at No Seeds.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Fern Craze

You may or may not have heard of the "Victorian Fern Craze," a time when ferns, fern gardens, and fern decorations were very popular throughout Great Britain. If you haven't heard of it, you're missing one of the more eccentric fixations of those wacky Victorians, and that's coming from a fern lover. Between roughly 1830 and 1890, the passion for ferns (or 'pteridomania' as it came to be known) reached its peak in England and Scotland, where gentlepeople arranged outings to collect ferns, which they then stored in ornate glass terrariums. These in- and outdoor fern gardens served as the inspiration for many ferny items, including the 'Fern and Blackberry' cast iron garden seat pictured above, manufactured by the English Coalbrookdale Company  around 1870. I wouldn't mind something like that for my garden...

The top-left image, Gathering Ferns, is from the Illustrated London News, July 1, 1871, and the bell-cover at top-right is from the 1856 Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Polystichum acrostichoides
, or the Christmas Fern, is a very common species in forests throughout the east and midwest. It remains evergreen through the winter (hence the name), and so can be seen throughout the year, if you're willing to dig through some snow. However, it appears at its best when new fiddleheads come up in spring. They are covered in white to golden scales, and are frequently quite acrobatic, like the one pictured at lower right, which was doing some interesting flips and curls as it unrolled. The specific epithet, acrostichoides, derives from the fact that this fern has acrostichoid sori, meaning they are spread across the lower surface of the pinnae rather than grouped into little clumps. The fertile pinnae are only found at the tips of the fronds, while the rest are sterile and do not develop spore-bearing structures. Another feature that makes Polystichum easy to recognize is the the little ear-shaped part of the leaf, the auricle, found next to the rachis on the upper edge of each pinna.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


We hiked several mid to long-range trails while in the Smokies, and all had something in common: in cooler areas, either at higher elevations or in valleys cooled by rushing streams, the Appalachian polypody (Polypodium appalachianum) was widespread. This small fern is common on rocky sediments and cliffs, as well as on dead logs and occasional standing trees. It is similar in appearance to several other Polypodium species, at least one of which it will hybridize with, but it was the only one we saw while in the Smokies. 

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mauchline Fernware

In the category of fern-inspired, I found a site about these interesting items which were manufactured in Mauchline, Scotland from roughly 1830 to 1930. The town generated a whole range of these wooden souvenir and home items, and one of their lines was called "Fern Ware." The name says it all. Above are pictures of some of the more interestingly-decorated items.