Skip to main content

Climbing Fern, Lygodium palmatum

Way back on August 13, I made a visit to Vinton County in southeastern Ohio, to visit my friend Ray Showman and his wife, Carol. The primary mission was to deliver a presentation to Carol's garden club, and that task was dealt with. But there was time for a field excursion into Vinton County's wildlands, and Ray and I hit some of the local hotspots.

One organism that I really wanted to revisit was a strange plant known as Climbing Fern, Lygodium palmatum. For as long as I can remember there has been a large station of this plant in a scruffy cutover woods not far outside of McArthur. Ray and I made our way there, and lo and behold - there was the fern. Vegetation succession has eliminated much of it - back when I first became acquainted with this spot the fern clambered over vast expanses, and suggested an out-of-control growth of Japanese Honeysuckle from afar. But the odd tangle of the odd fern persisted here and there.

In the photo above, we see the finely cleft fertile leaves of Climbing Fern, near the summit of the filamentous vining stems that scramble over other plants. Its support plant - at least one of them - is the noxious Japanese Honeysuckle, and supporting this beautiful fern is one of the better uses that I've seen for that invasive species.

This is what the ground below looked like. A vegetative tsunami of interesting hand-shaped leaves; the sterile foliage of the Climbing Fern. Their shape provides the plant's scientific name's specific epithet: palmatum (hand-like).

Here are both leaves together on an aerial stem. The narrowly lobed fertile leaves, which bear the indusia or spore cases, adorn the upper part of the twining stem. A few of the larger sterile leaves are below. All in all, a very showy climber well worthy of our attention and respect. It would seemingly make an excellent garden plant, but may be tough to grow, and it seems virtually unknown in the nursery trade.

Up until recently, Climbing Fern was a member of the strangely named Curly-grass family of ferns (Schizaeacaea. It has since been segregated into the Lygodiaceae). Only two species in these groups make it this far north: Climbing Fern (map), and the strange little Schizaea pusilla of the east coast and northeastern maritime regions. Ohio is on the edge of the Climbing Fern's range, and although it can be locally common, generally the fern occurs sparingly and locally in a handful of southeastern counties. The rest of the 35 or so species are tropical, and occur far to our south.


Lisa Greenbow said…
I just love ferns. I didn't know that there was a climbing fern. I hope to see it in the wild sometime. It is exciting to me to learn about this.
Sarah said…
Isn't climbing fern in the family, Lygodiaceae?
Jim McCormac said…
My transgressions have been found out! Thanks Sarah. Yes, it has been placed in fairly recently carved out family as you note. I was looking at my old Gray's Manual, and the newer Gleason & Cronquist (1991) when I wrote the piece, and both still treated this fern as in the curly-grass family.

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Snowy owl photography tactics - and things NOT to do

A gorgeous juvenile female snowy owl briefly catches your narrator with its piercing gaze. It's doing its Linda Blair/Exorcist trick - twisting its head 180 degrees to look straight behind. Owls have 14 neck vertebrae - double our number - which allows them such flexibility.

These visitors from the high arctic have irrupted big time into Ohio and adjacent regions, with new birds coming to light nearly every day. Probably 80 or so have thus far been reported in the state, and some of them have stuck around favored spots and become local celebrities.

I went to visit one of these birds this morning - the animal above, which was found last Friday by Doug Overacker and Julie Karlson at C.J. Brown Reservoir near Springfield. In the four days since its discovery, many people have visited as is nearly always the case when one of these white wonders appears near a large population center or is otherwise very accessible.

And as is always the case, people want to photograph the owls. And th…