This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
Fertile and sterile fronds alike, ovate, smooth, pinnate; pinnae lanceolate, narrowed at both ends, pinnatifid; segments oblong, obtuse; veins forked, forming a single series of areoles along the midrib both of the pinnae and of the segments; areoles fruit-bearing in the fertile frond. Root-stocks as thick as one's finger, creeping, elongated, with a rough black exterior, the interior soft and white. (Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States. See also Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United Stales, and Wood's Class-Booh of Botany.)
THE genus Woodwardia is not wholly American. It has a few representatives in Japan, India, New Holland, and a few other places. Still some of its most interesting forms are found in the territory covered by our work. The person after whom the genus was named, Thomas Jenkinson Woodward, does not appear to have had any connection with the history of the genus, but was a botanist well versed in the study of British plants, paying especial attention to the sea-weeds, on which he furnished some valuable papers to the Linnaean Society, of which he was a member. The plants now comprising our genus were known to Linnaeus as Blechnum. Sir James Edward Smith, President of the Linnaean Society, distinguished them from that old genus, and named the new one for his friend, Mr. Woodward. The genus is regarded as a very good one by the leading botanists, and is characterized - in the language of Mr. Thomas Moore, the author of a leading work on Ferns - "by the remarkable indusiate linear-oblong or sub-lunate sori, placed near the costa, the receptacles being formed of transversely arcuate anastomosing veins, which form one or more series of elongated costal areoles." That the reader may understand this more clearly, the enlarged study, Fig. 2, is given. In further explanation it may be noted that the veins in ferns often run parallel with each other, or nearly so; but in other cases they form a sort of net-work, or, as it is said botanically, they anastomose. In the case of these ferns this net-work is confined to the parts of the frond, bordering on the costa or midrib of the pinnule and its divisions, the outside portions having the veins free, that is to say, not connecting with each other. The spaces bounded by the small connecting veins are called the areoles. In our species, referring again to Fig. 2, we see that there is but one series of these areoles, and which in our specimen bear the fruit dots. There are other species of Woodwardia which have several rows of these areoles, and those botanists who regard the venation or arrangement of veins as of great structural importance, divide the genus into two, and then make Woodwardia a mere synonym. The set with several rows they call Lorinscria; and the other, which contains only our present species, is called Anchistea, of Presl, who, in 1849, wrote a work on Ferns, in which he made the venation the chief foundation of his system of arrangement. The name Anchistea is from the Greek, signifying related to, and suggested by the fact of its standing closely between other genera in the estimation of the author. A large number of American botanists do not place the same generic value on these conditions of the veins, and so retain Woodwardia for all of them; but it must be confessed that, besides the veining, the general appearance, which so often is made to do duty in defining genera in other cases, exists very strongly here. Our common chain-fern has the fronds all alike; other species of the genus have them different; and yet Lomaria taken from Blechnum depends quite as much for its distinction on the difference between the barren and fertile fronds as on any other character. These facts may show the student how careful the critical study of ferns must be.
The rhizomes, or creeping underground stems of ferns - indeed, the whole root system - has of late yc:ars been found to afford a good study. There was not room to show the root of this species on our plate, but it is much coarser and thicker than the species with which it often grows, and may be readily distinguished by this alone. Mr. Robinson, in his interesting little work - "Ferns in their Homes and Ours" - uses the Woodwardia to illustrate the great value of the root study. He observes: "To connect Woodwardia Virginica with the extreme form of Pteris, it will be only necessary to suppose the loose crown of the Woodwardia so elongated that only one frond will be found to every inch of stem, and the terminal point of growth to keep at a given distance below the surface of the ground." There is nothing more instructive than such comparisons as these between one species or genus and another.
The name of Virginica is derived from one of the adjectives given before the binomial system came into vogue, as so many modern specific names are. It occurs with a figure in the work of Plukenet, an old author, and it is by the aid of this figure that the plant described by Michaux as Woodwardia Banisteriana is known to be the same, for his statement that he found it "in the mountains of North Carolina" could scarcely apply to this species, for no one has found it there, or in any mountain region, as it is wholly a lowland plant, seldom being found at elevations much above the level of the sea. Nuttall found it in Arkansas, and it works up into Ohio and to Michigan, and from thence is found eastwardly to Liverpool in Nova Scotia. Its favorite home is along the Atlantic sea-board States, extending down to Florida and Mississippi. A fern very much like it appears in Japan, but is regarded as on the whole distinct from our species. It varies somewhat even in our own land, and one marked variety was thought to be a species by Pursh, and named Woodwardia Thelypteroides.
In the wet and bushy swamps of New Jersey, the common Chain-Fern has often an important part in giving character to the scenery. It thrives among alders, Magnolia glauca, Andro-medas, and other Ericaceous plants; with sedges, swamp grasses, and other moisture-loving things. In such situations, the fronds are often two or three feet in length; and, only that it does not make as dense a growth, gives the groups of vegetation much such a character as does the common brake of Europe. It seems to have been one of the earliest of American ferns to become cultivated in English gardens, as there are accounts of it being a favorite in 1724, and it is yet quite popular. A writer in Shirley Hibberd's Gardener's Magazine, so recently as the volume for 1879, speaks of it as one of the noblest-looking of ferns popular in English gardens, and recommends the giving of it a place in the fern garden where its magnificent proportions may be shown to the best advantage. Though naturally growing in wet places it thrives very well in any common garden ground, if the earth be not exposed to the hot sun; and when our native ferns are as much appreciated in their own country as they are in the old world, this will be one of the most popular of all.
1. A rather small frond from Mr. W. F. Bassett, of Hammonton, New Jersey.
2. Enlarged portion of a pinnule showing the venation and fruit.