It is a joy to encounter the soft green leaves and cheery delicate blooms of the early flowering woodland plants. Among these are the architectural and flowerless plants we call ferns. Their unfurling fronds are particularly attractive at this time of the year – they resemble fiddleheads and croziers, and are so named.
With ferns you can choose from many forms and colours. Some are a little more theatrical, such as the Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum AGM). This deciduous and delightfully delicate beauty is a bright silver-grey suffused with purple veining. Many species and cultivars of Athyrium liven up the stage of a shaded, damp corner.
The evergreen hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium AGM) has robust, leathery fronds and produces soft fresh green croziers covered in silky white scales.
A native of our countryside, this fern compliments the Japanese shield fern or ‘autumn fern’ (Dryopteris erythrosora AGM), which has held itself well throughout the winter months, fading from mid-green to butter yellow. Now, fresh rusty coloured fiddleheads project through these, developing into finely-divided fronds of dark green with a little surprise of pink spots beneath.
Making babies - the old fashioned way
These spots are the sori which are little factories that produce spores for reproduction. They are carried on the wind to a suitable place to grow and form a new plant. Our primitive ferns developed around the Carboniferous period some three million years ago and existed long before flowering plants evolved to produce seed.
Stately Blechnum chilense AGM, an extremely tough evergreen fern, copes well with some sun. It spreads and can colonise an area in moist soil. This compliments the large, native deciduous regal fern (Osmunda regalis AGM) that likes to sit on the water’s edge. The deciduous sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis AGM) also favours this space. Interestingly, these ferns produce vegetative and fertile fronds which look quite different on the same plant!
Who said ferns were boring?