Imagine a fern. Not hard to do, right?
Now try to write down exactly what that fern in your mind looks like or try to describe it in detail to a friend. Just got a little harder, didn’t it?
The land of ferns tend to be a quiet bunch. No brilliant colors, no showy flowers, no edible fruit, just a lot of green foliage.
If you look closer though you will start to see a unique world involving spores, beautiful unfurling fronds, and a diversity that is waiting to be explored.
What Makes a Fern a Fern?
There are several technical qualifications for making a fern a fern, but there is one that is most important of all.
Ferns do not have flowers or seeds, instead they use spores to disperse the next generation. For a detailed diagram on this unique life cycle click here.
Also, some of the terminology is different than flowering plants. Below is a diagram from nefern.info, which is a good place for introductions to ferns.
1. Christmas Fern
If there is one fern you will see on almost all your hiking adventures in Southern Illinois is it sure to be the Christmas fern. The great thing about this fern, also, is it is super easy to identify.
To identify take a look at the pinna (leaf), you will notice that nearest the rachis (stem) the pinna has an “ear” shape on it. This is how the Christmas fern earned its name, because it resembles a stocking.
Like a tree, a fern can be deciduous or evergreen. This fern is evergreen, which means that if you do go out for a Christmas hike you are liking to discover this welcome splash of green.
Check out this site for a great print-out of what to look when identifying the Christmas Fern.
Where To Find: Very Common on many Southern Illinois trails
2. Sensitive Fern
This is probably not the fern you imagined during the beginning of this article. It has the general shape of a fern, but has more of a “weedy” appearance.
The pinna (leaves) are winged and hug tight to the rachis (stem). The bottom pinna (leaves) will generally drupe down. This can sometimes be confused with Beech Ferns, but if you look closely at both at the photographs the difference is distinct.
This fern during the first frost of the year is likely to turn brown and die. This characteristic is why it is referred to as the “sensitive” fern.
Click here to view detailed info on the Sensitive Fern.
Where To Find: Rocky Bluff Trail, Bald Knob Wilderness, Ferne Clyffe State Park
3. Maidenhair Fern
This is one fern that can absolutely not be mistaken for any other fern in Southern Illinois. It’s unique semi-circle or fan-shaped blades flow beautifully from a blackish rachis and stipe (stem).
This is personally one of my favorites. Upon doing research for this article, I was stumped on where to find this one, even though I remember seeing it on numerous occasions throughout Southern Illinois.
I naturally searched Ferne Clyffe when I began visiting areas for this article. I walked Big Rocky Hollow Trail, Round Bluff Nature Preserve, Bork’s waterfall, and was not able to find it. After researching further it was noted that it likes limestone surfaces. We headed to Trail of Tears State Forest and found many examples.
The following weeks we found many more on the Rocky Bluff Trail and finally found this plant in Ferne Clyffe on the Hawk’s Cave Trail.
Want more detailed info on the Maidenhair Fern? Click Here
Where to Find: See above
- Sciencelearn.org.nz – Out of New Zealand, but has good videos and photos
- Illinoiswildflowers.info – Yeah, I know it says wildflowers, but has a lot of good info on ferns, too.
- American Fern Society – Yes, there is a society for ferns.
If You Liked this Article, Please Share
I want to personally thank you for taking the time to view this article.
If you liked what you have read and seen, please help me get the word out about our Shawnee Hills.
You can do your part by clicking on the Like us on Facebook on the right hand side and by clicking the like Facebook button on the top or bottom of this page.
If you have not subscribed to our e-mail update list now is the time.