Lady Ferns, Buckler Ferns & Allies

Soft Shield Fern Borrer's Male Fern Borrer's Male Fern Narrow Buckler Fern

What are they?

Ferns are primitive plants that evolved before the flowering plants and reproduce sexually by means of spores rather than seeds. This page covers the 'classic' fern species that form graceful clumps, the leaves all arising from a central point in the manner of a shuttlecock.

Where are they found?

These plants can be commonly found in a wide range of woodland and wetland habitats, as well as shady churchyards, hedgebanks and similar places.

Identification

This is the most difficult group of ferns to tell apart and it is necessary to note details of the smallest segments of the leaves, the spore cases (if present) and the outline and shape of the overall leaf. In the buckler and male ferns, the spores are covered by a round or kidney-shaped structure called an indusium and these lie in a double row along the underside of the leaflets. For ease of describing the various parts, a couple of technical terms are used; the side arms that form the first division of a leaf are called pinnae (singular, pinna), while the secondary divisions of the pinnae are called pinnules, which make up the smallest parts of each leaf.



Common Male Fern      Dryopteris filix-mas

Native. Our most common clump-forming fern of shady places, found throughout the region in a very wide range of habitats. A deciduous species, with all of the leaves dying down over winter - thus, spring plants consist only of new, fresh green leaves. Leaves are narrower and more parallel-sided than those of Broad Buckler Fern and the pinnules have less sharply-pointed tips. Compared with Borrer's Male Fern, the pinnules are more sharply pointed and they tend to taper slightly towards the tip.

Common Male Fern Common Male Fern Common Male Fern
Habit
Pinnules
Spore cases


Scaly Male Fern      Dryopteris affinis

Native. The male ferns have been reviewed in recent years, such that the true status of the various forms has yet to be fully established. Scaly Male Fern consists of a difficult group of plants that are very closely related but their full taxonomy is still open to debate. It is most likely that they represent apomictic species that produce clonal populations, but for now, the are represented by Scaly Male Fern, which here represents the general group where the plant cannot be assigned to one of the subspecies. There also follows, details of two subspecies that are found in our region and which form relatively distinct populations; these are Golden-scaled Male Fern and Borrer's Male Fern. The group appears to be fairly widespread in damper woodlands. These are more or less evergreen species - thus, spring plants consist of both new, fresh green leaves and old, dark green leaves. Leaves are narrower and more parallel-sided than those of Broad Buckler Fern and the pinnules have less sharply-pointed tips. Compared with Common Male Fern, the pinnules are very rounded at the tip and have more or less parallel sides. At the base of the pinnules, there is a dark, blackish mark. The scales at the base of the leaf stalk are plentiful and very obvious.

Scaly Male Fern Scaly Male Fern Scaly Male Fern Scaly Male Fern
Habit
Habit
Leaf stalk scales
Dark pinnule mark
Scaly Male Fern Scaly Male Fern
Pinnules
Spore cases


Borrer's Male Fern      Dryopteris affinis ssp. borreri

Native. This subspecies appears to be fairly widespread in damper woodlands. Identification details under Scaly Male Fern also apply to this subspecies. Leaves narrow a little towards the base but end abruptly, with the lowest pinnae about half as long as those half way along the leaf. The scales on the leaf stalk are less plentiful than those of Golden-scaled Male Fern and are typically a pale straw colour. The basal pinnule on each pinna is typically a little longer than the one next to it, well toothed on the margins and with a distinct lobe at the base. Pinnules are often conspicuously toothed at the 'shoulder'.

Borrer's Male Fern Borrer's Male Fern Borrer's Male Fern Borrer's Male Fern
Basal leaf section
Pinnules
Pinnules
Leaf stalk scales


Golden-scaled Male Fern      Dryopteris affinis ssp. affinis

Native. This subspecies appears to be widespread but uncommon and typically found in older, well-managed woodlands. Identification details under Scaly Male Fern also apply to this subspecies. Leaves narrow towards the base, with the lowest pinnae less than half as long as those half way along the leaf. The scales on the leaf stalk are plentiful and are a golden-brown colour. The basal pinnule on each pinna is about the same size as the one next to it, only vaguely toothed on the margins and without a distinct lobe at the base. Pinnules are typically round-tipped and not toothed at the 'shoulder'.

Golden-scaled Male Fern Golden-scaled Male Fern Golden-scaled Male Fern Golden-scaled Male Fern
Pinnules
Pinnules
Leaf stalk scales
Leaf stalk scales


Broad Buckler Fern      Dryopteris dilatata

Native. Common throughout most of the region in a range of wetlands, though more or less absent from Fenland and from the heavier, clay soils in south Norfolk and central Suffolk. Spore-bearing fronds may be found from late May to August. Overall, the leaf has a broad outline with the longest pinnae half way down the leaf and becoming shorter towards the base. Pinnules end in sharply pointed teeth with incurved tips. The scales at the base of the leaf are pale with an obvious, dark centre.

Broad Buckler Fern Broad Buckler Fern Broad Buckler Fern
Habit
Pinnules
Basal scales


Narrow Buckler Fern      Dryopteris carthusiana

Native. Locally distributed in wet woodland throughout the region, being missing from many areas, but often very common where it occurs, especially in Broadland and East Suffolk. Spore-bearing fronds may be found from late May to August. Overall, the leaf has a relatively narrow outline with the lowest pairs of pinnae being the longest and the leaf having a noticeably long stalk. Pinnules end in sharply pointed teeth with incurved tips. The scales at the base of the leaf are pale, without dark centres.

Narrow Buckler Fern Narrow Buckler Fern Narrow Buckler Fern Narrow Buckler Fern
Habit
Leaf
Pinnules
Basal scales


Crested Buckler Fern      Dryopteris cristata

Native. A rare plant which is classified as Critically Endangered. Found in a few, acidic bogs in Norfolk's Broadland and at two isolated locations on the north coast. Now lost from Suffolk, where it appears to have been last reported around 1975. Spore-bearing fronds may be found from late May to August. A distinctive plant, with open clusters of leaves that are not as tightly clumped as those of other buckler ferns - the outer leaves spreading outward, the inner more upright. The pinnae and pinnules are relatively broad but, on the inner, fertile (spore-bearing) leaves, they can appear narrow as the pinnae twist (sometimes to 90 degrees) on the main stem to give a ladder-like effect.

Crested Buckler Fern Crested Buckler Fern Crested Buckler Fern Crested Buckler Fern
Habit
Young leaf
Twisting pinnae
Pinnules


Soft Shield Fern      Polystichum setiferum

Native. Found most frequently in mossy, damp ditches bordering woodland or along shady lanes and back roads. Widespread but generally uncommon, except on the loamy soils of NE Norfolk, where it is quite frequent on hedgebanks. Spore-bearing fronds may be found from July to December. Overall, the leaf is rather soft to the touch and has a narrow outline with pinnae becoming only a little shorter towards the base before ending abruptly. Pinnules are sharply pointed with long teeth. The basal margins of the lowest pair of pinnules form an acute angle (compare with Hard Shield Fern).

Soft Shield Fern Soft Shield Fern Soft Shield Fern Soft Shield Fern
Habit
Leaves
Leaf base
Pinnules


Hard Shield Fern      Polystichum aculeatum

Native. Found most frequently in mossy, damp ditches bordering woodland or along shady lanes and back roads. Widespread but generally uncommon, except in SW Suffolk and on the heavier soils of central Norfolk. Spore-bearing fronds may be found from July to December. Overall, the leaf is firm and leathery to the touch and has a narrow outline with pinnae becoming progressively much shorter towards the base. Pinnules are sharply pointed with long teeth. The basal margins of the lowest pair of pinnules form an obtuse angle (compare with Soft Shield Fern).

Hard Shield Fern Hard Shield Fern Hard Shield Fern Hard Shield Fern
Habit
Leaves
Leaf base
Pinnules


Common Lady Fern      Athyrium filix-femina

Native. Widespread but rather uncommon in shady or damp places on acidic soils. Ripe spores present in late autumn. A graceful species with delicately and finely cut leaves. Leaves in outline are broadest about the middle, with a pointed, long-tapered tip. Pinnules have deeply lobed and toothed margins. The spores are covered by an indusium which is either linear, or more often curved or J-shaped in outline.

Common Lady Fern Common Lady Fern Common Lady Fern Common Lady Fern
Habit
Pinnae
Young pinnae
Pinnules


Ostrich Fern      Onoclea struthiopteris

Introduced from mainland Europe as a garden ornamental and recorded from two locations in Norfolk where it has become estabished from original plantings. The leaves come in two types, with the fertile leaves that carry the spores appearing in late summer at the centre of the plant. Infertile leaves may grow to 1.5m in length, with a short petiole and with the outline of the leaves strongly tapered towards both ends. Pinnules rather coarse and not finely tapered. Often known as 'Shuttlecock Fern' as its tightly held, upright leaves resemble the feathered end of a shuttlecock.

Ostrich Fern Ostrich Fern Ostrich Fern Ostrich Fern
Leaf
Plant centre
Pinnae
Pinnules