Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sensitive Fern Fertile Leaves

Blue Jay Barrens has several patches of Sensitive Ferns, Onoclea sensibilis, that grow in the wetter sections of the low pH, shale based soils. During the summer, they are noticeable by their large, two foot tall sterile leaves. The sterile leaves die back quickly when cold weather arrives, leaving the fertile leaves as an indicator of the plant’s presence.

The fertile leaves have a strong stalk topped by several narrow leaflets. The clusters of leaflets stand out boldly against the snow.

A few remnants of the sterile leaves remain visible where they have lodged against the fertile stalks.

The fertile leaflets are lined with spherical spore capsules. The appearance of these capsules has earned this plant an alternate common name of Bead Fern. These stalks dry well and are particularly attractive in dried flower arrangements.

The spore capsules are normally described as being dark brown, but these all had a purplish blush.

There are still plenty of spores contained in these capsules. Sensitive Fern primarily increases its population through a creeping rootstalk that spreads through an area producing new leaves. Millions of spores are spread, but they rarely find the conditions necessary to develop into a new plant. For a look at the Sensitive Fern in its summer form click here.


  1. ...what a shock going from the dead of winter to your post of sunny green! Those ferns look great in green. More snow is on the way tonight..... It will be interesting to see if we get all 6-8 inches.

  2. Kelly - I'm ready to see more green and less white. I should have Woodcock displaying in the field by now, but I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. I prefer to schedule snow for January and leave February for doing outdoor projects. It's hard to keep nature on a practical schedule.