Athyrium Filix-femina (Lady Fern)
|Also known as:
|Dryopteridaceae (Wood Fern)
|part shade, shade, sun; moist woods, swamps, bogs, stream banks
|16 to 40 inches
|Wetland Indicator Status:
|GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):
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Leaves and stems:
Leaf is twice compound, lance-elliptic in outline, broadest at or slightly below the middle, tapering to a point at the tip, 16 to 40 inches long and 4 to 14 inches wide, with 20 to 30 pairs of branches (pinnae). Branches are linear-oblong in outline, gradually tapering to a point, with a minimum of 8 pairs of leaflets (pinnules) in an opposite or alternate formation.
Leaflets have rounded or pointed lobes and tips, rounded or pointed (but not bristly) teeth, and forked veins that do not typically extend quite all the way to the leaflet edge. The opposing lobes at the base of a leaflet are often unequal in size.
Stems are slightly grooved, green to straw colored, darker at the base, with light to dark brown scales scattered on the lower stem. One distinctive form has red stems. Leaves form a circular cluster or asymmetrical clump.
The sori (cluster of spores) develops on the back of the leaf blade in summer and is typically curved to hook-shaped, though is sometimes straight. A translucent tissue (indusium) partly covers the spores and is visible long before the spores develop.
Mature sori are brown. Spores are only present on some leaves; fertile and infertile fronds are indistinguishable from the front though, when sori mature, the leaflet edge can roll around the sori some.
There is a lot of variability in the form of Lady Fern but the key to identification is that the sori are mostly curved (like a lady's eyebrow) and there are scales on the stem (like a woman's hairy legs). The general shape and growth pattern of Lady Fern looks similar to some Dryopteris species (D. intermedia and D. carthusiana in particular) but can be differentiated because it does not have bristly teeth (may be seen with a hand lens) and on the bottom-most branch of a frond, Lady Fern is 2 times compound while D. intermedia and D. carthusiana are 3-times compound. A word of caution - I have seen this species often mis-identified. While at the Home Depot, I saw plants being sold that were labeled Lady Fern...but in reality it was a Dryopteris species. Having said that, Lady Fern does make a good addition to a garden. “Flora of North America”, our definitive reference, lists 4 varieties of Lady Fern in North America. Some references include var. cyclosorum in Minnesota but there are no herbarium records to support that; var. angustum is the only known variety in Minnesota at this time. - Cindy Hoffmann
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Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey, Pine and St. Louis counties. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in a private garden in Anoka County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?