Cut Leaf Grape Ferns

This should have been a wonderful year for the ferns but didn’t seem to be. Dry weather the past year or so has taken its toll.

Ferns do have roots but still like cool moist areas to live in. Rock outcroppings are favorite places for me to find ferns but many of these had few ferns this year.

The pond in the ravine behind the house is almost gone. Its spring rarely runs. The Christmas ferns around it are not as lush this year.

Back in the big ravine there is a pawpaw patch. We planted it years ago. It had a lot of trouble at first because the evening sun shone in on it something young pawpaw trees can die of.

grape fern sporangia ccluster

Grape fern spores develop in little round sporangia. These line tiny branches looking like a big cluster of tiny grapes.

Not many animals eat pawpaw trees other than a webworm but trampling isn’t good for them either. This patch is protected by a cattle panel enclosure. The trees have flourished shading the ground beneath them.

Out gathering pawpaws I found the cut leaf grape ferns are doing well there.

Grape ferns got their name because their spores are in tiny spherical bits lining a branched stem giving them the appearance of a grape cluster. Three such ferns are found in Missouri: rattlesnake which blooms in the spring and vanishes in late summer; sparse-lobed which blooms in the fall but is normally far south of here; and cut leaf which blooms in the fall.

These ferns were in full bloom. Bloom isn’t really the right term as ferns do not have flowers nor make seeds. But it fits as ferns do put up stalks or make places to produce spores which act like seeds to start new ferns although differently from how seeds do it.

Terms set aside, the grape clusters were magnificent as were the ferns. They were much larger than I’ve ever seen them. The clusters topped a foot high. The ferns had fronds in many groups instead of the usual one.

usual cut leaf fern

The more common form of cut leaf fern has broad toothed frond lobes.

Speaking of the fronds, cut leaf ferns come in two styles. The most common one has nice smooth lobes. Another kind looks like cut lace. Anyone would think they were two different kinds of fern.

They aren’t. The fronds can have a few lacy bits or be elaborately cut. The fern can have one frond type one year and the other another year. In the enclosure I found six with the usual frond and one lacy one.

lacy cut leaf grape fern

This is the frond the name cut leaf refers to. Finely divided each frond lobe looks like a piece of lace.

Unlike rattlesnake grape ferns, cut leaf ferns stay through the winter. Their fronds turn a dark reddish bronze, get torn and smashed by winter weather and snow but revive in the spring turning green to greet the new season. New fronds grow to replace the tattered remnants later in the spring.

Finding the cut leaf ferns was a reminder that any reason to go out on the hills is an opportunity to find something unexpected to enjoy.