Fern Structure and Basic Diagnostics

For many gardeners a pretty plant is an end in itself, but for others knowing more about the plant (including its name) is a natural part of the joy of growing. Current botanical research has advanced tremendously using sophisticated chemical and analytical techniques leading to important new insights. However, field characteristics rather than those determined in the lab remain the gardener's primary resource for identification and determining distinctions among their plants.

Watch a fern group on a garden tour and notice the penchant for looking at the undersides of fronds where, when fertile, the sori, which enclose the sporangia and hence the spores, are usually located. Their configurations are a significant aid in determining the genus of the fern. This can be muddied or impossible when the material is old and sori withered, so the following, which deals with the most common genera, is based on optimal conditions, usually of the midsummer. (Note too that those touring enthusiasts usually hang a hand lens around their neck to help observe these details.)

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