Athyrium alpestre Alpine lady fern

Synonym Athyrium distentifolium

Epithet means "from the Alps."

Deciduous, 2 to 21/2 ft. (60 to 75 cm).Zones 5 to 9.

description: The rhizome is erect to short-creeping. Tan stipes evolving upwardly to russet are one-third to one-half of the frond length and covered basally with dark brown scales. The narrowly ovate blades are bipinnate to tripinnate-pinnatifid with 12 to 20 pairs of pinnae. Sori are round and without indusia, with both characteristics being unusual in the genus and unique to the species. This has been a taxo-nomically challenging species with botanical references differing in the classification of this and that of Athyrium distentifolium of Europe. The latter is considered by some authorities as a variety or subspecies of A. alpestre. Corre-

Colorful structure on Athyrium atkinsonii in the Gassner garden.

spondingly, the North American material is sometimes therefore designated as A. alpestre var. or subspecies americanum. Athyrium distentifolium is not as finely cut and is reputed to be more compact. Both are similar to the lady fern, A. filix-fem-ina, but are smaller and differ in fine botanical details with the lack of an indusium being a readily recognized distinction.

range and habitat: By whatever name, these are alpine ferns luxuriating in bright light in moist acidic soil among rocks, meadows, and talus slopes in North America, Europe, Japan, and Siberia. There are some magnificent stands adjacent to waterfalls in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State where the fern brightens the landscape, especially when dressed in its rich golden fall colors.

culture and comments: The alpine lady fern prefers acid compost that is continually moist with draining, not stagnant, water. it is cultivated in the gardens of German specialists. Given appropriate fussing and a proper balance of soil and moisture, it has potential, albeit not an easy one, as an addition to lowland gardens.

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