Virginia Chain Fern

06 May

Woodwardia virginica


Today John and George, peparing a presentation at the Palm City Public Library (probably July 29 2016) explored a pretty St. Johnswort marsh adjacent to the library,  with flowering St. Johnsworts,  Tall Pinebarren Milkworts,  Eupatoriums,  and  Rosegentians.   We marveled at something we deemed marvelous long ago:  that the leaves of Virginia Chain Fern line up along the snakey rhizomes often all facing the same direction like solar panels.   Sometimes an entire meadow can have the VA Chain Ferns all in conformity.  How much of this alignment is a slow growth response, and how much is a short-term adjustment will be interesting to measure.

woodwardia lined up


However, back in 1899 a remarkable individual beat us to it fittingly, in Virginia…at the Great Dismal Swamp.    I don’t normally provide a bio for every biiologist with a discovery before 2016, but William Palmer (1856-1921) was so exceptional, a few words might be interesting.    Recording that Virginia Chain Fern orients to the sun was not his oddest feat.    Contenders for that included stuffing the last passenger pigeon on earth (he did not kill it),    making models of fish and squid still displayed at the Smithsonian Institution (where he worked),   discovering an extinct seaturtle, casting  a mold of a Mexican meteorite, preserving a whale skeleton,  researching the Florida Burrowing Owl,  and boiling eggs in a volcano.     Palmer specialized in birds and ferns, which brings us back to Virginia.

Woodwardia virginica 7

This and all photos below by John Bradford

Virginia Chain Fern has a huge north-south range, from here to northern Canada,  mostly in the Atlantic Coastal Plain and into the Midwest.    And that footprint a mere remnant.  In 2001 botanists K. Pigg and G. Rothwell found  our fern fossilized about 14 million years ago in Washington State,  showing how the modern distribution of a plant may be misleading about its history.  Who knows, it may have extended even into Asia.

You’ll never have trouble recognizing Virginia Chain Fern.  Hold it up to the light, look at the bottom of the leaf, and see looping chains made by the veins.

Woodwardia virginica 3

Chain chain chain

The spore-making regions, called sori, develop bounded by the loops of the chain.   According to some reports, the plants tend to enter their spore-making phase in response to disturbance.

woodwardia mature sori

The spore-making sori are inside the links.

Two reported spore-inducing stimuli are fire (no surprise) passing over the rhizome safe in the mud, and well, you guessed it of course, beavers.  (What!?)  That needs a little more research.  But then again,  the ferns do inhabit wet mud, and beavers  make mud wet.





Posted by on May 6, 2016 in Uncategorized


6 responses to “Virginia Chain Fern

  1. Gregory Overcashier

    May 7, 2016 at 6:41 am

    Such a joy to read George. I am kicking myself for how many times I have probably seen this little jewel and not given it a second look. Peace, Greg

  2. George Rogers

    May 7, 2016 at 8:48 am

    Thanks Greg, Sure is an attractive fern, standing up with attitude, and all glossy…

  3. theshrubqueen

    May 7, 2016 at 9:07 am

    I agree with Greg above.

  4. George Rogers

    May 7, 2016 at 10:25 am

    That’s good, because if anyone disagrees I’m going to cuss them out right here on wordpress.

  5. Karla

    May 11, 2016 at 11:56 am

    I don’t know how I stumbled on to your blog, but I’ve actually been reading it all morning. I’ve learned a lot, and now I want to go hiking so that I can spot all the different plants I’ve read about. It’s all very interesting! When my parents moved us to Florida one of the biggest disappointments was the lack of color on the hiking trails, there were no big tall trees and the floor wasn’t covered in leaves or pine needles but instead it was covered with sand and ugly little cacti looking things. I guess I wasn’t looking at it properly, because I love wild Florida landscapes now, they’re beautiful and mysterious, there’s something very calming about them. Anyways, I am really enjoying reading up on these native plants, and I hope you keep making more posts 😀

    • George Rogers

      May 11, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      Karla, Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Much of my hiking and botanical experiences is in far more northern places, and I love, say North Carolina, or Michigan. But, as you note, here we are in Florida and it sure has its charms. Thanks for chiming in, and enjoy that flora! -George


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