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.
Plant fleshy, sparsely hairy or nearly smooth, usually from twelve to fourteen inches high; sterile segment long-petioled from the base of the plant, broadly deltoid, ternate, variously decompound; primary, secondary, and even tertiary divisions stalked; ultimate divisions from roundish-reniform to obliquely ovate or ovate-lanceolate, crenulate, or toothed or incised; fertile segments twice to four times pinnate, usually much taller than the sterile; bud pilose. (Eaton's Ferns of North America. See also Williamson's Ferns of Kentucky, and, under the name of Botrychium lunarioides, Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States, and Wood's Class-Book of Botany.)
WHEREVER practicable it is preferable to select the botanical descriptions from text-books in general use, and easily accessible to the student. In this case the description is taken from the rarer but very valuable work of Professor Eaton, because to him chiefly belongs the credit of determining the proper name which, according to botanical rules, this fern is entitled to; and of showing the true relationship which many forms bear to it that have been described and named as distinct species by botanists who preceded him. The extent to which species varied was not known to botanists of the past generations as it is known to us, and even the distinguished botanist who gave our plant the name of Botrychium ternatum also gave to another form the name of Botrychium lunarioides - the name used by Dr. Gray and others as quoted, but which is now regarded as only a form of the same thing. So variable is this fern, and so little was known of the range of this variation, that no less than fourteen names are recorded by Eaton as having been given to forms as species, which he now regards simply as varieties, and the names therefore ranking as little more than synonyms. Two of these forms are placed on our plate, because they are both thought by Dr. Gray in the " Manual" to be distinct enough to retain Latin names as varieties. Fig. 1 is his Botrychiunt luna-rioides, var. obliquum; Fig. 2 is his B. lumarioides, var. dissectum. It will be seen by even a mere glance at our plate, that in the main features they are both the same. The finer division of the frondose portions is all that strikes the eye; but in most ferns it is so common to notice variations in the subdividing of the frond, that in this case the character is hardly worth even a distinctive varietal name. One of the best characters to distinguish species of Botrychium is in the degree of union between the barren and fertile fronds. In some species the stipe of the barren is wholly united to the fertile, so that the frond seems sessile on the common stem. In our present species we see in both forms on our plate, that the union is only for an inch or so, before the barren frond diverges and retains the remaining portion of the stipe for its own account. Professor Eaton calls attention to a peculiarity which distinguishes this species from all others. It is that the young bud before it pushes from the ground for the season's growth is pilose or hairy. Not as a specific character - that is, one confined to a single species; but as one common to several other species, he notes that this bud " is completely enclosed in the hollowed base of the stalk, and in it may be distinctly seen the rudiments of the fronds for the next two or three following years." The stem so completely envelops this bud in some species, that it is likely to be overlooked early in the season without a careful examination - but it is worth looking for and studying, as it affords a clew to the union of the stipes as already noted. This particular formation of a miniature plant, so far before development, was partially noted by Linnaeus, who, in speaking of the European plant then named by him Osmunda Lunaria, says, "within the base of the stem, early in spring, may be found a complete rudiment of next year's plant." It shows how closely the great botanist, now nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, examined the plants that came before him, though he did not observe so closely as to see the essential difference between this genus and Osmunda, which is now well understood. One difference consists in the spore cases having no jointed band surrounding them, as in Osmunda and other ferns, but are in little grape-like vesicles, which burst laterally and divide into two equal halves when mature. (Fig. 4.) This peculiarity is so marked, that some botanists, notably Dr. Lindley, proposed to consider this and Ophioglossum as forming a distinct order as Ophioglossiacea; and the others, or what would then be called the true ferns, Polypodiacea. It is from the grape-like capsules that the genus takes its name Botrychium, botrys being Greek for a bunch of dried grapes.
In regard to the common name, it seems best to follow Eaton in the use of "grape-fern " for the genus, though most American botanists who preceded him call all the species moon-worts. This last was the common name of a single species, known to the botanists of several hundred years ago as the Lunaria, and which they so called from the pinnules resembling a half-moon. This is what is now known as Botrychium Lunaria. There is no reason why this name should follow to other species, especially as in literature it is likely to be confused with another " Moon-wort," which has become popular in English history as a plant used in conjurations and other mysterious rites, and to which the well-known English poet, Drayton, refers in the lines "Then sprinkled she the juice of rue With nine drops of the midnight dew, From Lunary distilling."
This famous Moon-wort is a cruciferous plant, Lunaria biennis, and is still grown in gardens for its singular moon-like seed-vessels.
Our Ternate Grape-fern has evergreen fronds, which in the fall of the year turn from a rich green to a pretty bronzy purple, and then add their portion to the numerous beautiful colored tints which make American autumn scenery so famous all over the world. Our artist has taken his drawing at this particular season, and the pretty tints the lithographer has faithfully reproduced. In some one of the numerous forms which it loves to assume, the species is found over the greater part of the world, and is as common in Japan as here; but whether it carries this change of coloring with it in its migration is not recorded. This very change of form is credited to "climatic peculiarities" by Mr. John Smith in his "Historia Filicum," but though the various forms are found more or less localized in the different parts of the world wherever the species is found, the rigid demands of modern science for explanation of terms and an accurate application of their meaning, will render "climatic peculiarities" as little more than a suggestion.
1, 2. Stalks of two varieties.
3. Upper and fertile portion of the stem.
4. Magnified capsules, showing transverse openings.