Dennstaedtia punctilobula

Hay scented fern

Epithet from punctum, spot, and lobus, lobe, in reference to the placement of the sori on the pinnae lobes. Deciduous, 11/2 to 21/2 ft. (45 to 75 cm). Zones 3 to 8.

description: Rhizomes are very long-creeping going from state to state on the U.S. East Coast. Stipes of one-fourth to one-third of the frond length are brown to fawn-colored with soft white hairs. Broad-based, lanceolate blades are bipinnate-pinnatifid with 10 to 24 pairs of feathery yellow-green to gray pinnae carried in an almost ladderlike fashion and bearing glandular-tipped hairs. The foliar glands give off a freshly mown grass fragrance, especially pronounced in dried fronds, earning the fern its common name. Sori in cuplike indusia are spotted on the pinnae margins.

range and habitat: This species grows eagerly in acid soil and is especially at home among the boulders of hillsides and roadsides in eastern Canada, the eastern Midwest, and particularly in New England south to Alabama. It is quite tolerant of sunny exposures and turns russet early in the fall before dying down for the winter.

culture and comments: Unless it is dutifully and regularly pruned, the hay scented fern is not suited for any garden other than as a scenic attraction in the widespread, open rock-strewn fields provided by Mother Nature or the untended wilds in the outlying acres of public or private gardens. There it is incredibly useful for its tolerance of the testing and difficult unfernlike conditions associated with drought and exposure. It was Thoreau's favorite fern and one must presume he saw quite a bit of it. He wrote that "[t]he very scent of it, if you have a decayed frond in your chamber, will take you far up country in a twinkling." But, Clute (19091) notes that since "[c]attle will not eat it and it is almost impossible to eradicate from stony soil ... the farmer has no desire for its presence in his fields." In cultivation give it a site where the meandering rhizomes and attendant foliage will not be an inconvenience. They are, after all, quite pretty when examined as individual fronds or as fulsome summer displays along the highways and byways in their native haunts.

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