Tag Archives: ferns

Christmas Fern Polystichum acrostichoides

Lace and ferns seem to go together. Fern fronds like on the Christmas fern have such graceful arches, a great mound of green. I went around the curve of a hill and found a wrinkle where water runs after a big storm lined with large ferns. It became a favorite place to go just to admire these beautiful plants.


Polystichum acrostichoides Schott

June to October                                           N                                 Family: Dryopteridaceae

Christmas fern sori

Sporangia: A fertile leaflet has a double row of circular sori under it. These have 64 tiny ball-shaped spores under them. The spores well and turn brown as they mature turning the entire underside of the leaflet an orange brown.

Christmas fern leaf

Leaf: Each compound leaf has twenty to thirty pairs of leaflets arranged alternately. Each leaflet has a prominent ‘thumb’ sticking up near the petiole. A long, single leaflet tips the petiole. Each leaflet has forked veins and toothed edges. Many of the fronds have the usual leaflets half way up then have a series of smaller, more triangular leaflets. These are the fertile leaflets with sporangia under them.

Christmas fern petiole

Stem: Clumps of petioles come up from various places on the rhizome. Each green petiole is grooved. The base has hair-like brown scales which look like scattered hairs higher up. The petioles can be two to three feet long.

Christmas fern fiddlehead

Fiddlehead: These appear in early spring. They are light green, an inch across and covered with silvery scales that look like hairs. These turn brown as the frond unrolls past them.

Root: The perennial root is a rhizome.

Habitat: This plant prefers light shade and moist places. It is common on the slopes of ravines and wet weather water courses.


Christmas Fern

Christmas fern plant

In the fall Christmas Fern leaflets turn dark green, become shorter and lie flat on the ground. These fronds stay green all winter. They were gathered and used as Christmas decorations giving the fern its common name.

During the spring and summer, Christmas ferns are among the showiest Ozark ferns. They can form large linear colonies along fold on hillsides where rain water gathers. They line the slopes of ravines and higher sections of ravine floors. They like moist areas but not wet ones.

The ‘thumb’ on the leaflets is a definite identification when coupled with the thick, green petiole. Ebony Spleenwort also sports these ‘thumbs’ but has a thin, wiry petiole and is much smaller.

Christmas ferns are available commercially. They are easy to grow in the right places. They grow well in pots.

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.