Comprehensive DescriptionRead full entry
Athyrium filix-femina, commonly known as the lady fern, is native to temperate forests in the Northern Hemisphere and is present throughout the continental United States, Alaska, and Canada (USDA 2016). This perennial is part of the pteridophyte taxonomic group and is in the family Dryopteridaceae. Lady ferns, like other ferns, are deciduous and lose their pinnas seasonally. The fronds form clusters and each frond has about twenty to thirty alternate pinnas that are narrow and pointed at the end. The pinna has pinnules that range from lanceolate to oblong (Missouri Botanical Garden 2016). It has light green blades with a lacy pattern on its pinnas and its stalks range in color through various shades of green, purple, and red. It inhabits a wide range of elevations and individual plants grow to a height of two to five feet (Stewart 2016).
As a pteridophyte, A. filix-femina is a non-flowering plant that reproduces through spores. The haploid spores are a product of the plant’s meiosis. Once the spores are produced they are released into the wind. If they land on something suitable for germination, they will grow into a tiny gametophyte. The gametophyte produces sperm and eggs that require moisture in order for the sperm to get to the eggs, which is one of the reasons why ferns require a generally wet habitats (Pojar and MacKinnon 2004). Following fertilization, the diploid sporophyte gradually develops into a mature plant. The lady fern has sori (clusters of spore cases) that are very unique and make it easy to identify. They are j-shaped on the underside of each individual blade and are either white or dark reddish brown depending on the level of maturity. Reproduction happens continually.
Although A. filix-femina can be found throughout the continental United States and it can tolerate somewhat dry soil, its ideal habitat is in rich and moist but well drained soil with partial shade. It is commonly found growing under trees or alongside stumps in moist to wet forests, on streambanks, or in swamps or meadows. For successful cultivation, fronds should be protected from breaking in harsh winds. This fern is different from most because it can tolerate sunshine and heat, as long as its soil is kept relatively moist (Missouri Botanical Garden 2016).
The lady fern is not an endangered species and has no current natural or human threats to its survival and is in fact flourishing across the continental United States. The traditional Iroquois used the lady fern’s roots as a main ingredient in a tea that was employed in the treatment of pregnant women, particularly to prevent their water from breaking prematurely, for aiding mothers with intestinal fevers, and for treating men with venereal diseases . Some examples of this are using the fern to treat intestinal fevers and to stop pregnant women’s water from breaking. It was also used to help with breast pain, caked breasts, and other forms of labor pain. The use of lady fern for similar gynecological conditions has been documented among various other native groups across North America (Native American Ethnobotany 2016).