Top ferns to find in North Dorset

They’re easy to just walk past, but Alex Hennessy from Dorset Wildlife Trust suggests we pause to notice the range of ferns growing in our woodland and hedgerows, and shares her favourites.

Hart’s-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)

The simple, tongue-shaped leaves of this fern are a glossy green with orange spores underneath
– often in stripes that bring to mind centipedes’ legs – scolopendrium is Latin for centipede. Their characteristic leaves with curled ends and sides make them quite easy to spot.

Male-fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)

When you think of a fern, the chances are you envisage something quite like the male-fern. The fronds of this species are split into many tapering leaflets, which unfurl in spring from tightly wound strands starting from the base of the plant. By summer, the plant will have exploded into a spray of fronds up to 1.15 metres high, which will then die back again in autumn. Male-ferns are one of the food plants of the angle shades moth caterpillar, which can be seen from May to October and looks like crumpled leaves.

Top image –
Hart’s-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium) Followed by
Male-fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) Then
Adder’s-tongue fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum) and lastly
Bracken
(Pteridium aquilinum)

Adder’s-tongue fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum)

Another fern named for its wildlife-reminiscent shape, this is an important indicator species
for ancient meadow habitat and is much less prevalent and more difficult to find than the hart’s- tongue or male-fern. It usually appears between June and August, spending the rest of the year underground as a rhizome. It is bright green, with an upright oval-shaped frond – quite different to the frothy frond displays we most associate with ferns. Two other related plants, the small adder’s- tongue fern and the least adder’s-tongue fern, are much smaller and rarer, and only found at a few sites around the south-west of England.

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum)

This is our most familiar fern in Britain. The golden-brown colour of dying bracken in winter
is likely to be a familiar sight in woodlands, on heathlands and across many other habitats across the county. Bracken grows up to 2 metres in height and spreads underground via rhizomes. Because of its fast growth and ability to negatively impact flora and fauna if left unchecked, bracken needs to be carefully managed and this vital conservation work is often carried out with the help of the fantastic Dorset Wildlife Trust volunteers.

Find out more about Dorset Wildlife Trust’s work and how you can get involved here

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