Athyrium filixfemina Lady fern

Epithet means "female fern."

description: The rhizome is stout and erect. Succulent, grooved, greenish-tan stipes are swollen at the base, with dark brown scales, and are up to or sometimes exceeding half of the frond length. Lanceolate blades are bipinnate-pinnatifid with 20 to 30 pairs of pinnae. New fronds are produced throughout the season. Sori and indusia are linear, crescent or hook-shaped (athyroid).

range and habitat: Athyrium filix-femina is practically worldwide in its distribution, growing primarily in moist to wet acidic sites in shade or, with adequate moisture, sun. The above described comes from Europe, Asia, and South America. Those described below are native to the United States.

culture and comments: This fern is easily cultivated and may often (for better or worse in western United States gardens) volunteer. Native eastern U.S. varieties are better mannered and welcome in gardens including those of the hot and humid interior. The common name is from ancient Greek tradition where this fern is considered the female, lacier, counterpart to the robust male fern, Dryopteris filix-mas. (This overlooks the fact that the lady is often considerably taller.) The epithet is "often misspelled as felix, which is Latin for 'happy', so be felix in using filix" (Kruckeberg 1993).

Historically this has been a botanically complicated species with little to no consensus regarding the classification, naming, or grouping of the North American material. In turn, therefore it is even more confusing for the gardener trying to identify the plant in hand. While these characteristics are variable and sometimes overlapping, the North Americans have been botanically subdivided, with many synonyms, as follows.

Subsp. angustum, the northern lady fern, synonyms Athyrium angustum and A. filix-femina var. angustum, matures at 11/2 to 3 ft. (45 to 90 cm) with elliptical blades supported by long stipes dressed in dark brown linear to lanceolate scales. The rhizome is creeping rather than erect, and the blade tapers towards the base. This fern is hardy in Zones 2 to 9 with colonies in wet acidic sites on both sides of the Cana-dian-U.S. border from the Dakotas east, extending down to Virginia and across the waters to Greenland. An especially attractive cultivar, Asplenium filix-femina subsp. angustum f. rubellum'Lady in Red' (or 'Lady in Red' for short), is a superior selection discovered in Vermont by John Lynch of the New England Wild Flower Society and introduced by the Garden in the Woods in Massachusetts. It has glassy ruby stipes balancing attractively with the lime-green foliage. When I first planted mine (with its green stipes), I thought someone had slipped me a "Lady in Green." So, take note, the luminescent

Colorful Athyrium filix-femina subsp. angustum f. rubellum 'Lady in Red' highlighted with back lighting.

Athyrium filix-femina subsp. asplenioides in New Jersey.

Colorful Athyrium filix-femina subsp. angustum f. rubellum 'Lady in Red' highlighted with back lighting.

Athyrium filix-femina subsp. asplenioides in New Jersey.

color does not fully develop until after at least one cold winter and steadily improves thereafter. Nutrient-rich fertilizer (5-10-5 is recommended) darkens the intensity of the color but reduces the translucence. The plant is inclined to be brittle, so select the site accordingly.

Subsp. asplenioides, the southern lady fern, synonyms Athyrium asplenioides and A. filix-femina var. asplenioides, grows from 1V2 to 3 ft. (45 to 90 cm) with lanceolate to ovate blades on stipes trimmed with light brown scales. Fertile blades are taller and more upright than the sterile and widest just above the base. The rhizome is creeping. This subspecies is hardy from Zone 4 to 9 and prefers moist acid soils. The range extends from Connecticut south to the Gulf states and west to Texas and includes some areas in common with subsp. angustum.

Subsp. cyclosorum, the western lady fern, synonyms Athyrium cyclosorum and A. filix-femina var. cyclosorum, is a portly goliath with knobs of stout crowns and dense masses of fronds from 2 to 6 ft. (60 to 180 cm). The stipes with dark lanceolate scales are up to one-third of the frond length, but frequently smaller. Blades are tapered at both the base and apex. The western lady fern spreads from Alaska through western Canada down to coastal California. It will never be mistaken for a lady. Like most of the "ladies" it often looks tattered by midsummer and has the irritating habit of sowing spores about with abandon, usually in the midst of a choice planting. By the time it becomes apparent that this is not a welcome ornamental sporeling, it is usually entrenched and extremely difficult to pull or otherwise eradicate.

In addition to Athyrium filix-femina having had 62 botanical name changes since 1753 (Hessler and Swale 2002), Lowe

(1908) described some 296 cultivars, "which rightly or wrongly are by some people termed simple monstrosities" (G. Schneider 1892). Although most of these originated in Victorian Britain and have been lost to cultivation in the ensuing years, many are still proudly displayed and maintained in the gardens of collectors worldwide. They are extremely variable in form and dissection ranging from the fine tracery of the airy plumose varieties, to those with eccentric twists and turns, to the heavily tasseled and ornate crested types (from Mother Nature's baroque period). The latter are so embellished that they are best employed as specimen focal points. Grouped together they are more museum pieces than landscape art. Most do not come true from spores and should be propagated by division. Note also that, like the species, they break easily and should be located out of harm's way. All are early deciduous and, if winter landscaping projects are on the agenda, should be flagged so as not to plant the tulips (or whatever threat is planned) atop the ferns. Actually, like other deciduous ferns, they rotate well with Cyclamen hederifolium, which trades its summer dormancy with the winter dormancy of the fern. Much as it may be tempting to use the ladies as showpieces in the home, their need for winter dormancy renders them unsuitable for indoor d├ęcor (except temporarily). Some of the available cultivars, including those grouped by type, are as follows:

Capitatum Group (large headed) includes a broad selection with varying degrees of forking and multiforking at the frond's apex, but no crests on pinnae.

'Clarissima' most distinguished.

'Clarissima Jones' is described by Rickard (2000) as "probably the most sought-after cultivar of any fern," with tripinnate fronds and slender pinnae. It usually matures at 2 ft. (60 cm).

Athyrium Filix Femina Frizelliae
Athyrium filix-femina subsp. cyclosorum suitably situated near water in the garden of the late Roy Davidson.

'Congestum' (crowded) is dwarf and compressed in all of its parts.

Corymbiferum Group (clustered) has terminal crests heavily divided and re-divided into several planes.

Cristatum Group (crested) has crested frond tips and crested pinnae as well. They lie flat as in a fan.

Cruciatum Group (crossed) has criss-crossed pinnae forming the letter X. The most-renowned and publicized of this group is the popular and variable cultivar Athyrium filix-fem-

A selection of Athyrium filix-femina 'Corymbiferum' in the Kohout garden.

ina 'Victoriae' (called the "Queen of Green'by Mickel 1994). It has in turn yielded a further number of named selections.

Fancy Fronds Group includes an assortment of dwarf forms with fringed fronds.

'Fieldiae' is extremely tall and slender with narrow spikes of pinnae that emerge from stubs of foliage at the junction with the rachis.

'Frizelliae', the tatting fern, is best described by Kaye (1968) as having "pinnae reduced to tiny ... beadlike balls causing the frond to look like a necklace of green beads." Its unusual frond architecture resembles the tatting needlework of past centuries. Note that it is quite late with new fronds. Do not despair.

Grandiceps Group (with large terminal crests) has broadly extended terminal crests which exceed the width of the fronds.

'Kalothrix' has pinnae that terminate in fine hairlike extensions.

'Minutissimum' in its ideal form is a bushy 6-in. (15-cm) dwarf. Various imposters masquerading as this cultivar may have fronds of up to 2 ft. (60 cm).

Percristatum Group (crested throughout) has fronds, pinnae, and pinnules with crests.

Plumosum Group (feathery) presents an elegant assortment of 2- to 4-ft. (60- to 120-cm) finely cut cultivars with aristocratic feathery plumes that offer the garden the lightness and buoyancy at which ferns excel and were perhaps predes-

The distinct Athyrium filix-femina 'Victoriae' in the Mickel Athyrium filix-femina 'Frizelliae', a popular conversation piece garden. in the Duryee garden.

A plumose form of Athyrium filix-femina in the Coughlin garden.

Athyrium filix-femina 'Plumosum Axminster' type.

tined. Their frond divisions may reach quinquipinnate (five times divided), which is the ultimate extreme in frothy foams of delicate foliage. A few of these cultivars will produce minute bulbils where the pinnae attach to the rachis and, with the encouragement of humidity-enriched incubation, for example, enclosed in mini greenhouses, can develop into replicas ofthe parent. Some of the others are fertile, but the offspring are not true to the parentage. Although the progeny can be attractive and interesting, please do not name them after the parent. In fact, tempting as it may be to bestow immortality, please do not name them at all. Three hundred cultivar names should really cover the majority of departures from normal.

'Plumosum Axminster', which is commercially available in the United States and Europe, dates back as a selection to the 1860s. It is a gossamer, quadripinnate, and triangular 2-ft. (60-cm) highlight of green sunshine in dark shade. It stands as the matriarch of a distinguished family tree of airy cultivars.

'Plumosum Drueryi' is considered one of the most elegant lady fern cultivars with quadripinnate to quinquipinnate light green lanceolate, foliose fronds. It is named after the prominent British pteridologist and author Charles Druery (1843-1917). With his keen interest in cultivars, Druery, like his knowledgeable contemporary E. J. Lowe, actively pursued the unusual. His plumose series originated from spore-grown plants of Athyrium filix-femina 'Plumosum Axminister' with subsequent generations yielding further selections. One of his prize plants was presented as a gift to Queen Victoria and may still exist in a royal garden.

'Plumosum Superbum Drueryi' enjoys plumose finery with the addition of a trimming of flat crests on the frond and pinnae tips.

'Vernoniae' has maroon stipes and crisped pinnae margins with a ruffled overall appearance.

'Vernoniae Cristatum', a crested variation of 'Vernoniae', has slender open pinnae as well as crests at the frond and pinnae tips.

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