Wildflowers get lots of attention because of their colors and variety. Ferns tend to get overlooked.
Some years ago I started looking at the ferns growing on the hills and up the ravines. The biggest problem with them is trying to identify them.
One group is easier: the grape ferns. Only three grow in Missouri and they are very different from each other. (Other ferns are written about in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.)
All three grape ferns have a single leaf or frond. This lasts all season. They each put up a fertile frond with numerous ball-shaped sori giving the look of a bunch of grapes.
Only two of the three species were supposed to grow around my area. The rattlesnake grape fern was easy to find in the spring.
The frond is lacy. The plant has a long underground stem so the fronds appear at intervals. It sends up its fertile frond in mid spring. By summer the plant has withered.
Dissected leaf grape fern plants survive all year long. It likes the ravine floors. The challenge with these is spotting plants with the two different fronds.
One frond has broad leaflets with wavy edges. The other has so many tiny lobes along the frond leaflet edges, it looks like fancy lace.
By the time this fern sends up its fertile frond in the fall, the leaflets are tuning color from the lovely green of summer to a deep, dull red for the winter.
Long before we moved here someone built up banks for a spring fed pond in the ravine behind the backyard. Near that pond I found a frond one fall that wasn’t turning red. It stayed green all winter.
This frond’s leaflets were different too. They were broader and thinner like a maple leaf is thinner than as oak leaf.
I watched this fern for a few years. It was the third grape fern, the sparse lobed fern, the one not supposed to grow here.