The Forest in Summer: Lady Ferns


A sure sign of summer is the lush ferns along the forest trails. The lady fern (Athyrium angustum, sometimes considered Athyrium filix-femina var. angustum) is a common native fern found at Black Rock Forest.  It is a fine-textured deciduous fern with sori (the spore cases) borne in a herringbone pattern on the back of the fronds.  The fronds of the fern grow to about three feet long and form a lush, compact cluster. At Black Rock Forest, the fern is found most often in moist woods and sedge meadows.  If you would like to plant lady fern in your own garden or landscape, plant it in a site with medium shade, preferably in a place where the soil can be kept moist.  Even under good growing conditions, the fern will spread relatively slowly.

The name “lady fern” is most likely derived from the graceful, delicate appearance of the fern.  The genus name Athyrium comes from the Greek a, “without” and thyra, “door” alluding to the fact that the spore-bearing structures (the sporangia) barely push open their protective covering (the indusium), even when mature.  The specific epithet angustum is Latin for narrow, since the segments on the tips of the fronds are narrower than in some closely related ferns. The name filix-femina, is simply Latin for “lady fern”.

As you hike in the Forest this summer see if you can spy one of these lovely "ladies" among the many species of ferns throughout the Forest.

Matthew Palmer, Ph.D.
Vice President, Board of Directors - Black Rock Forest
E3B (Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology) Senior Lecturer - Columbia University