James Merryweather
British Wildlife 28.5 June 2017

Male ferns: why do botanists find them difficult?

The male ferns are widespread throughout the UK, but their identification is challenging. Differences between the species are subtle, and to complicate matters there remains some uncertainty over whether different forms represent species, subspecies, or variants. James Merryweather discusses the intricacies of male fern identification, and provides some tips to help when attempting to separate the different species.

Folk botanists may have thought them vegetable man and wife, perhaps by reference to the perceived ‘feminine’ delicacy of the Lady Fern Athyrium filix-femina compared with the relative coarseness of male ferns. Today, with modern scientific taxonomy, we know that they are unrelated and that their reproduction is more complex than anthropomorphised male–female sex.

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