Monday, November 21, 2011

Grape Ferns

Grape Ferns are a favorite of mine. This is Cut-leaved Grape Fern, Botrychium dissectum, showing a close approximation of the typical form of the plant. This is a plant that shows a wide range of leaf shapes and forms. Taxonomists delight in separating or combining the various forms into different species or varieties.

The leaf is born on a single stalk and turns a pinkish bronze after a couple of frosts. The horizontal orientation of the leaf always reminds me of a tiny palm tree.

Open woodland seems to be the preferred habitat for the typical form at Blue Jay Barrens. It’s common to find them rising out of patches of ground cedar.

As the name suggests, the leaves are finely dissected. Although this shape is typical of the species, it’s the least common leaf shape found here.

This is another form of the same species and is often referred to as variety obliquum. I find this form growing in open fields in the shade of Indian Grass or Goldenrods. Since it has a different look and grows in a different habitat, I can see why someone would want to consider it a different species.

I guess the problem with the physical characteristics of this plant is the fact that there is so much variety that it’s sometimes hard to find two plants that show an identical pattern. This was a rather frustrating group of plants to identify because it seemed that I was finding more different plants than there were identified species. The range of leaf shapes merges with a couple of other species of grape ferns that are possible in this area, so I’m always looking for evidence that I’ve got another species besides B. dissectum.

I always check the base of these plants for signs of past leaves. Some of the B. dissectum plants display characteristics almost identical to the Leathery Grape Fern, B. multifidum, but that plant will have the remains of last year’s leaf present at the base of the current stalk. Even though Leathery Grape Fern hasn’t been found in this part of Ohio, it doesn’t hurt to check.

The plant I really hope to find is the Sparse-lobe Grape Fern, B. biternatum. Sparse-lobe Grape Fern has been fund in Adams County, so I have a realistic chance of finding it at Blue Jay Barrens. B. biternatum used to be considered a variety of B. dissectum, meaning that it falls into the wide range of leaf forms I’ve been seeing. If I keep looking, I may be able to add Sparse-lobe Grape Fern to my list of species.


  1. Hi Steve...I am still alive, but things just haven't going my way don't suppose you have any of those things happening in your life hahahaha!!
    What a interesting fern..I guess we don't have them here or I would have noticed that lovely color for sure!!
    That second one I would not think of being a fern either..hmmm learn something every day !!

  2. Hi Grace. I always read you blog posts, so I keep up with what you let us know. For some reason, my very rural internet connection has trouble whenever I try to leave comments, so I don't try that often.
    I've had times when I wondered how so many things could happen all at once. I guess if you're going to have troubles, you might as well have a bunch of them.