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.
Rootstock short and thick, very chaffy; fronds tufted, erect; sterile ones nearly sessile or short-stalked, sub-coriaceous, narrowly linear-lanceolate, eight to twenty-four inches long, one to three inches wide, tapering to both ends, pinnatifid to the rachis into very numerous close-set oblong or oblong-linear, often upwardly curved obtuse or apiculate segments, the lower ones gradually diminished to minute auricles; fertile fronds sometimes three feet high, long-stalked, pinnate; the pinnae somewhat fewer and more distant, longer, and much narrower than the sterile frond, sessile by a suddenly widened base; involucres distinctly intra-marginal. (Eaton in the Botany of Wheeler's Expedition. See also Eaton's Ferns of North America.)
IN some of the older botanical works this fern is described as Blechnum boreale, the last name signifying the extreme north, and given in allusion to its high northern range. It is found in the Arctics, and probably grows nearer to the pole than any known fern. In these regions it is called the "Deer-fern," from its forming part of the scanty herbage on which this very useful animal subsists. Another author, whose name is not in mind, tells us that in "Central California, where it is rarely found in deep mountain ravines, it is known as the Jointed Pod-fern;" but the application is not very apparent.
It often happens that a plant will have many common or popular names, or the same name may be applied to many different plants, and it becomes annoying to the botanist to be called to decide what plant may be referred to by them. In the present case, if we may choose one among a large number, it would be Hard-fern or Deer-fern, as being in the best accord with its popular history. Few have had more botanical names than this. Since the time of Linnaeus, who called it Osmunda Spicant, it has been named Onoclea Spicant, Asplenium Spicant, Acrostichum Spicant, Struthiopteris Spicant, Blechnum Spicant, Spicanta bore-a/is, Blechnum boreale, as well as the one here adopted, Lomaria Spicant. The name, Spicant, which it has managed to retain through all these changes, is an ancient proper name in use by the old herbalists before botany was remodelled, derived from the Latin, and alluding to the general form of the fronds which is spike-like, as in an ear of wheat - a resemblance which can be traced, though remotely, in the illustration here given. The difficulty in fixing on its proper genus, and which gave rise to so many names, comes from the unity which pervades all nature, and is particularly conspicuous among the ferns. Nothing can be more unlike than the extremes of different genera, but the different species in each genus are often so near alike that it is often a question whether a form is really a species or only a variety of some other; and, as we pass from species to species to the boundaries between genera, it is often as difficult to decide on the genera as the species. Our Lomaria is one of these uniting genera, and on this account has given trouble for many years past. Even when describing it as Osmunda Spicant, in 1820, Green observes: " It is difficult to decide on the genus of this plant. Dr. Withering and Hedwig determined it to belong to the Acrostichum; Dr. Smith refers it to Blechnum; and Mr. Robson to the Pteris genus; but wherever it may finally be fixed it clearly cannot be an Osmunda." Even so late as 1838 botanists, like Sir W. J. Hooker, hesitated what to do with it, for he remarks in his "British Flora," "Mr. Brown suggested that this plant might probably be referred to Lomaria, with which indeed it entirely agrees in habit, and other botanists have unhesitatingly placed it there. But if the young fertile fronds be examined, it will be evident that the involucre is by no means marginal, for there is a considerable space of frond between it and the margin." In a later work he describes it as Lomaria; but adds, "if the very young sori be inspected, the fructification is indicative of Blechnum, but the habit and dimorphous fronds are characteristic of Lomaria."
It may be remarked here that the difference in size and appearance between the barren fronds and the fertile (see Fig. 2 in our plate) - -the dimorphous character referred to by Sir W. J. Hooker - is now regarded as one of the chief characteristics of the genus; for in Blechnum all the fronds are alike, those which bear fruit as well as the barren ones. Still there is a difference in the position of the sori and involucre in the mature frond, which is thus described by Prof. Eaton in the work above cited: "Sori in a continuous band next the midrib of the contracted pinnae of the fertile frond, covered till mature by an elongated involucre, either formed of the recurved or altered margin of the pinnae, or else sub-marginal and parallel to the margin;" and he adds: "It is closely connected with Blechnum, which has the involucre remote from the margin." In order to make this point clear, as described by Prof. Eaton, we have had the enlarged Fig. 3. which shows the fringe-like involucre attached near the edge of the pinnae, that is to say, "sub-marginal," and which is turned up in the lower edge to show the sori beneath. This illustration also shows the character which suggested the name Lomaria to Willdenow, its author, which is derived from Ioma, a Greek word, meaning the fringe or bordering along the edge of a lady's garment.
In our time the study of a fern is not complete without an examination of its veins, for, though their characters are not wholly constant, there is as much stability in them as in most other parts of the structure. Of Lomaria, Prof. Eaton says, "veins of the sterile frond oblique to the midrib, simple or forked and free." To aid the student we give in Fig. 4 an illustration of this character. It will be noted in addition to the obliquity of the veins to the midrib, the secondary, or upper forking, is rather more curved at the base or cup-like than the lower ones.
Lomaria Spicant is regarded as a very variable fern, but the variations are chiefly in its size. In California and Oregon the fronds are often two feet long; while the Alaska specimens of Prof. Rothrock are like that illustrated in our plate, and which is a fair average size. Sir W. J. Hooker notes a peculiar variation found in "Derbyshire, England, by Mr. Henry Robson, which is proliferous at the end, with numerous repeatedly dichotomous branches." These peculiar, and we may perhaps say individual variations, are much prized by florists.
This species not only inhabits high northern regions, but goes almost round the world - a form being even found in Japan.
1. An average-sized plant complete.
2. A fertile frond.
3. Enlarged pinnule, showing the involucre and sori or fruit.
4. Male pinnule, showing the venation.