Equipped with James Merryweather’s excellent Fern Guide, I’m trying to identify the ferns that grow prolifically all around here. Starting with the easy ones, there is hart’s tongue in every hedge, and hard fern. Hard fern is plentiful in the hedges but also makes a fringe to the banks of Ludbrook.
Polypodies are also very common, even growing on tree branches, but I haven’t got to grips with the three species yet: Southern, Common and Western polypody all grow in the south-west. Western and Southern polypody need a microscope to distinguish. Both have leaflets (pinnae) that end in a point, with slightly serrated edges. The lowest pair of pinnae are flexed inwards. The sori are oval. Common polypody has circular sori and flat pinnae with blunt tips and smooth edges. They hybridise readily and I swear every plant I looked at had features of all three.
The largest common ferns here at the moment are male fern and soft shield fern.
Soft shield fern has mitten-shaped pinnules with soft hairs, the thumbs lined up along the midrib.
Hard shield fern has diamond shaped pinnules with coarser bristles.
Buckler ferns are medium sized and have thrice-divided fronds, giving them a bushy appearance.
Broad buckler fern has a dark green stalk (stipe) that is blackish at the base. Scales on the stalk are dark, or have a dark central stripe. The pinnae are slightly to markedly bent back. I found specimens growing in the hedges between Pennaton and Peek Farm, and sheltering under rock ledges and gorse bushes on the moor. The fronds are arranged in a shuttlecock formation, facing towards each other.
Narrow buckler fern is similar, with flat or convex pinnae. It is typically paler green. The stipe is pale green and reddish-brown at the base. Stalk scales are pale, with no stripe. Unlike broad and hay-scented bucklers, the fronds of narrow buckler grow from a creeping rhizome so are angled randomly rather than facing inwards.
Hay-scented buckler is relatively pale green, with spreading fronds that face inwards. The most notable feature is that the edges of the pinnules turn upwards, giving them a crispy appearance.
Spleenworts are quite small ferns (fronds are 20cm or less) that particularly like walls and stony banks. Black spleenwort has triangular fronds and a black base to the stipe. The fronds are divided three times (tripinnate). Lanceolate spleenwort is rarer but has a stronghold in Devon. The fronds are bipinnate and lanceolate in outline as the name suggests (wider in the middle than the base). I didn’t find any.
Two other wall-dwellers: the very common maidenhair spleenwort and the less common wall rue.
After the heavy rain, spume from the Ludbrook looked like snow on the turf: