Ferns of Pittsylvania County, Virginia

Compiled by William T. Hathaway

1 - Silvery Spleenwort - Athyrium thelypteroides

The silvery spleenwort is dull green with a hairy stem. It prefers rich, moist woodland ravines.

Silvery Spleenwort

2 - Marginal Woodfern - Dryopteris marginalis

This bluish-green, somewhat leathery evergreen is often found hanging from rocks and ledges on north-facing slopes. It is common in our county.

Marginal Woodfern

3 - Narrow-Leaved Spleenwort - Athyrium pycnocarpon

A fairly slender fern about waist high, with smooth slender leaflets and stem, the narrow-leaved spleenwort grows in deep, moist, rich woodlands.

Narrow-Leaved Spleenwort

4 - Netted Chain Fern - Woodwardia areolata

A glossy green little fern with margins of leaflets fine-toothed, the netted chain fern can be found in the shade of swamps and wet woods.

Netted Chain Fern

5 - Hayscented Fern - Dennstaedtia punctilobula

A yellowish-green brittle fern, this plant is often found growing in colonies in deep ravines and cliffs along water ways. It also hangs from cliffs.

Hayscented Fern

6 - Fragile Fern - Cystopteris fragilis

This bright green small fern, usually arching from a moss bank, often disappears during a dry spell. Its stem is brittle to the touch.

Fragile Fern

7 - Royal Fern - Osmunda regalis

The pale green leaves of this fern grow up to 2 meters in length, with its roots forming large basal cushions. It is found in wet woods and along woodland streams, often growing in shallow water.

Royal Fern

8 - Cinnamon Fern - Osmunda cinnamomea

A large fern standing about shoulder high, the cinnamon fern is seen growing in wet swampy woods and along stream edges.

Cinnamon Fern

9 - New York Fern - Thelypteris noveboracensis

This yellow-green fern grows in colonies about knee high in sunlit woodlands. Its leaflets are gradually reduced down the stem.

New York Fern

10 - Walking Fern - Camptosorus rhizophyllus

The walking fern is a little evergreen fern with leaves flat on the ground. The tips of its leaves form new little fern plants. It is found only on wet rocky areas.

Walking Fern

11 - Ebony Spleenwort - Asplenium platyneuron

One of our commonest ferns of dry woodland and woodland edges, the ebony spleenwort's alternate leaflets and shining brown stems are conspicuous.

Ebony Spleenwort

12 - Maidenhair Spleenwort - Asplenium trichomanes

This is a small fern inhabiting moist shaded crevices in rock outcroppings.

Maidenhair Spleenwort

13 - Maidenhair Fern - Adiantum pedatum

The maidenhair fern has delicate horseshoe-like fronds, a shining black stalk, and is in shape unlike any of our other local ferns. It grows in rich shaded soil, often in ravines.

Maidenhair Fern

14 - Rattlesnake Fern - Botrychium virginianum

This common fern is a bright green, lacy-cut early-appearing fern of the woodlands. Its spore shoot arises from upper axil of the leaf.

Rattlesnake Fern

15 - Purple-Stemmed Cliffbrake - Pellaea atropurpurea

This evergreen is rare in our country, only found growing from crevices in limestone cliffs on the Pigg river.

Purple-Stemmed Cliffbrake

16 - Grape Fern - Botrychium dissectum

A delicate cut-leaf fern with spore shoot 20 centimeters tall, the grape fern's leaf and spore shoot stems are joined near the ground.

Grape Fern

17 - Blunt-Lobed Woodsia - Woodsia obtusa

The blunt-lobed woodsia has downy stalks and undersides of leaves, and blunt-lobed lower leaflets. It usually grows along sandstone cliffs.

Blunt-Lobed Woodsia

18 - Broad Beech Fern - Thelypteris hexagonoptera

A somewhat horizontally disposed leaf with stems not in clumps, the beech fern grows in sunny open spots in semi-moist woodlands.

Broad Beech Fern

19 - Common Polypody Fern - Polypodium vulgare

A small evergreen fern growing in matlike form on top of the common polypody fern is slightly larger than the resurrection fern and has different under-leaflets.

Common Polypody Fern

20 - Mountain Spleenwort - Asplenium mantanum

This is a delicate small bluish-green fern growing in drooping tufts and hanging from crevices in rock cliffs.

Mountain Spleenwort

21 - Lady Fern - Athyrium filix-femina

A showy, lacy-cut, common fern, the lady fern grows in clumps in fairly moist semi-shade with sandy soil.

Lady Fern

22 - Christmas Fern - Polystichum acrostichoides

The christmas fern's evergreen leaves grow up to 1 meter long in arching clumps. It is usually found in cool rocky woodlands on north-facing slopes. Note the eared base of the leaflets. This is one of our common ferns.

Christmas Fern

23 - Adder's-Tongue Fern - Ophioglossum vulgatum

The adder's-tongue fern is small and unfernlike, often withering in early summer. It is difficult to see in spring. It is found in rich semi-moist woods. It is not common.

Adder's-Tongue Fern

24 - Bracken Fern - Pteridium aquilinum

Strong and coarse, the bracken fern is our of our commonest ferns, usually forming large colonies in poor soil. The older ferns reach above your knees.

Bracken Fern

25 - Sensitive Fern - Onoclea sensibilis

This is a coarse fern with triangular leaves which tilt backwards. The edges of leaflets are wavy and smooth, in damp or wet places.

Sensitive Fern

26 - Resurrection Fern - Polypodium polypodioides

This plant grows in clumps on rocks, trees, and logs. It often dries up, then becomes green again after a good rain.

Resurrection Fern

27 - Hairy Lipfern - Cheilanthes tomentosa

This rusty dead-looking fern loves dry cliffs. It greens up beautifully after a rain.

Hairy Lipfern

28 - Black-Stemmed Spleenwort - Asplenium resiliens

A rare fern in our area. found only up on Pigg River near Smith Mountain, the black-stemmed spleenwort has erect tufts, leaflets opposite, and a dark brown (sometimes black) shining stem.

Black-Stemmed Spleenwort

29 - Bradley's Spleenwort - Asplenium bradleyi

This small brown-stemmed evergreen fern inhabits dryish bare cliffs in acid soil. In our country it is a rare fern, found along the Pigg River trail.

Bradley's Spleenwort

Explanatory Note

This guide is designed primarily for students who are just beginning to identify the ferns of Pittsylvania County. It is a supplement to more detailed instruction, created for instructors who conduct groups on hikes through the woodlands of the country, and who need a guide which simply associates the names of the ferns with the shapes of their fronds and the disposition of fruiting spores. The illustrations are easy enough so that learning can be fun and productive, even for those who are not familiar with more advanced vocabulary and with botanical keys.

However, even though the concept of this publication is simple, any ambitious student may find it helpful, especially because it concentrates on twenty-nine ferns which are locally distributed. It is based on many years of instruction, field trips, notes, and illustrations compiled by naturalist Bill Hathaway, who is a college/university instructor and the former science specialist for the Pittsylvania County Schools.

If further information concerning ferns is needed, we suggest the following publication: Gray's Manual of Botany (Mr. Hathaway uses the 8th Edition, by M.L. Fernald).

May your outdoor walks be fun and educational, and your eye be trained to see the beauty and diversity of our locality!

Henry H. Mitchell, Editor, Planetarium Specialist, Pittsylvania Co. Public Schools, Chatham, Virginia, Fall 1993.

This online guide is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia.