Cedar Creek valley’s several native ferns are non-flowering plants which propagate not
by seeds but by spores borne in sporangia, dot-like bodies on the back of fronds (leaves).
These spores, generally carried by the wind, develop new plants where they fall, though
they are not prolific. Ferns also spread by underground stems (others, not in our area,
root at the tip of the frond).
Graceful plants, ferns can be tiny or tall, evergreen or not, complex or simple leafed,
uncurling as they grow from a small to a fully developed leaf structure. Many thrive in
shaded slopes or even barren slopes where they help retard erosion; others thrive in moist
shady places such as wooded Cedar Creek banks, marshes, swamps, and bog-margins.
Evergreen ferns in the Cedar Creek area include Christmas Fern, Polystichum
acrostichoides, which grows to about 36” with eared leaflets nearly opposite
on a brown scaly stalk, and a brown scaly crown. Ebony Spleenwort, Asplenium
platyneuron, is shorter, growing to about 15”, with black stems and simple leaflets
with ears (particularly the fertile leaflets).
Cinnamon fern, Osmunda cinnamomea, is handsome and large, growing to 36”. Its dark green
sterile fronds are narrowly lance shaped and nearly opposite in placement on the stalk.
Fertile fronds first appear green, at maturity turning cinnamon brown with wooly
cinnamon-colored tufts at the base.
The sensitive fern, Onoclea sensibilis, is a coarse large leaf fern of up to 24”.
The light green leaves are somewhat triangular with connected leaflets (a webbed look) at
the leaf axis. Because the plant is sensitive to frost, it dies back easily. Fertile
leaves are shorter, 12” or so, with tightly packed branchlets that appear to be covered
Lady Fern (Heather Baker)
Lady fern, Anthyrium Filix-femina, has a classic fern shape. It grows to approximately
30” with arching, lacy, light-green leaves in a rounded cluster at the base. The leaflets
are cut and recut on a smooth (not wooly) leaf axis, and the spore-bearing dots on the
backs are short and curved.
Cut-leaf grape fern,Botrichium dissectum, is somewhat variable in appearance yet
easily identified by its characteristic single, three-part sterile leaf with a single
fertile frond (sporophyll) from the base--the whole less than 12”. The semi-evergreen
sterile leaf tends to turn bronze-brown in the fall.