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Lady Fern Spores Maturing

Ferns are non-flowering plants which reproduce by spores, not seeds, and have a vascular system that transports fluids (unlike mosses, algae and liverworts).  Spores are typically located inside a capsule, or sporangium.  In many species of ferns, clusters of sporangia, called sori, are borne on the underside or margins of their fronds.  Often an indusium, or protective flap of tissue, covers each sorus, protecting the developing sporangia.  If you like to be able to give a fern a name, you will find that the shapes and arrangement of sori are a valuable identification tool.

Northern Lady Fern, Athyrium filix-femina, is a fairly common fern found in moist woods, swamps, thickets and fields.  It appears quite lacy and often grows in a somewhat circular cluster.  There are two distinguishing characteristics which are particularly helpful in recognizing Lady Fern.  One is its eyebrow-shaped sori.  If you look on the underside of a spore-bearing frond you will find that each sori is slighted curved, or arched, like an eyebrow.  The other diagnostic feature is the scattered thin, dark brown scales that are found on the stipe – the section of the fern’s stem between the ground and where the leafy frond begins.

This time of year, when the spores of many fern species are maturing, is a good time to learn the different ferns in the Northeast.  There are many excellent field guides to ferns.  One that you can easily tuck into your pocket is Lynne Levine’s Identifying Ferns the Easy Way.

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6 responses

  1. carol bohmer


    I have been an avid reader of your blog for several years now, and I specially enjoy it when I am away from the Upper Valley (which is most of the year). We have humming birds in our garden and we have been wondering about them. Is there a chance that you might do a post on them? We can’t figure out how they can possibly migrate, given their small size and constant need for food.

    Thanks very much for all you do for us. Best carol

    On Wed, Jul 17, 2019 at 8:01 AM Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “Ferns are non-flowering plants which reproduce by > spores, not seeds, and have a vascular system that transports fluids > (unlike mosses, algae and liverworts). Spores are typically located inside > a capsule, or sporangium. In many species of ferns, cluster” >

    July 17, 2019 at 8:09 am

    • I will try to do that this summer! Thank you for the suggestion.

      July 20, 2019 at 1:56 pm

  2. We have such glories of ferns in New England! I recently came across a small field guide by Lynn Levine (Identifying Ferns the Easy Way) that I’d recommend. Thanks, Mary, for showing us these great ID tips!

    July 17, 2019 at 8:21 am

  3. Barbara Heim

    Another easy to remember ID: “Lady ferns have hairy legs”

    July 17, 2019 at 8:59 am

  4. Alice

    I think Ferns are difficult to learn about. More than 7 years ago, my daughter gave me a Ric Rac plant, we both saw 2 plants at the same time in the nursery, mine must have gotten some ‘spores’ from a fern in the nursery, because I have huge fronds growing out of the Ric Rac, some fronds die off & new ones keep appearing each year, with lots of spores on the leaves. It looks comical & unique.

    July 17, 2019 at 3:46 pm

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