Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dryopteris ludoviciana

One of the most exciting parts of my trip to the Carolinas was finding Dryopteris ludoviciana, the Southern Shield Fern. Dryopteris is the genus I work on, and there are 13 species in North America; D. ludoviciana was the last one I hadn't yet seen in the field, so it was a total thrill to find it! We had information from some old herbarium vouchers (circa 1939) that it could be found with one of its hybrid offspring, D. celsa, in a swampy area next to a creek in northeastern South Carolina. After hacking through the woods and underbrush for an hour, we finally stumbled across both of the ferns growing happily together at the base of a cypress tree. 

This is the open-water part of this lovely swamp:

Here are several of the ferns growing together:

D. ludoviciana is one of the putative parents of D. celsa, which is a hybrid; the other parent is D. goldiana. They all look vaguely similar, but the first two (which we found here) in particular share a lot of features. Side by side, however, they're clearly different. In the image below, D. celsa is on the left and D. ludoviciana is on the right. D. celsa has larger pinnae overall, and there isn't much difference between the sterile pinnae (towards the bottom of the frond) and the fertile pinnae (the two or three topmost in the picture). D. ludoviciana has smaller pinnae overall, compared to D. celsa, but there's also a definite difference between the sterile and fertile pinnae. D. ludoviciana's upper, fertile pinnae are contracted and very reduced (see photo just above, right). 

South Carolina Coastal Plain

For my first outing of this field season, I spent a week exploring the Carolinas and part of Georgia with native fern expert Tom Goforth of Crowdog Native Ferns & Gardens. We had a fantastic time, and spent two particularly interesting days exploring the Coastal Plain of South Carolina. One of the most beautiful places we visited was the Lynchburg Savanna Heritage Preserve

This wet longleaf pine savanna was stunning, populated with numerous wildflowers and several species of ferns. It was interesting throughout my week in the south to find several species of ferns that were growing in several, very different environments around the area. At this savanna there were Woodwardia virginica (Virginia Chain Fern), Osmunda regalis (Royal Fern), and the ubiquitous Pteridium aqulinum (Bracken), all of which I've seen growing in dark, shady environments as well as out in the open, as they were here.

The ferns were very cool here, but even I have to admit that the real show-stoppers were the wildflowers (click to see larger pictures):