The Flora of Ashdown Forest includes 15 species of fern that have been identified in at least the southern part of the civil parish of Forest Row. Several of these are quite rare locally, but there is still a good clutch of common pteridophytes that we can find on our doorstep.
Ferns also have a reputation for being hard to differentiate but, though that can be true for some species, most of the common ones aren’t too hard. I’ve been out over the last few days armed with the essential book from the Field Studies Council (The Fern Guide) so I could key them out in the field.
Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum)
Hart’s tongue (Phyllitis scolopendrium)
Fairly common in Forest Row, especially on walls in the village, though is more scarce as you head up to the more acid Ashdown Forest. Unmistakeable with its single, undivided frond.
Hard fern (Blechnum spicant)
Extremely abundant on the forest and within Forest Row generally. Distinctive leaves in a rosette shape on peaty soils.
Male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)
This is when I needed to get the book out, since I wanted to be sure that I had a better grasp of how to tell apart some of these often very similar species. This is the common one, which I remember from Biology A level, but I’m still not convinced I’d easily notice the difference of its less common look-alikes in the field. These elegant clusters are often to be seen in the local woods.
Broad buckler fern (Dryopteris dilatata)
Another common fern in the woods, with much more triangular-shaped fronds and more finely divided leaves than the others. The brown scales on the stem have a stripe down the middle.
Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
Less common than the others, this elegant fern is often on the sides of streams and in damp places.
Lemon-scented fern (Thelypteris limbosperma)
Scattered around Forest Row, often near shady streams, but not overly common. I found these in the land between Kidbrooke and Hindleap. The white scales and lemon scent when crushed are distinctive.
Finally, the following species also occur within Forest Row, but are less common (indeed some are decidedly rare and may only exist as a few plants (in order of approximately increasing scarcity): Scaly male fern (Dryopteris affinis); Polypody (Polypodium vulgare); Wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria); Narrow buckler fern (Dryopteris carthusiana); Soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum); Hay-scented buckler fern (Dryopteris aemula); Royal fern (Osmunda regalis); Beech fern (Thelypteris phegopteris). The latter species was only rediscovered in Forest Row in 1995, not having been observed here for decades. The Flora of Ashdown Forest notes that it suffered as a result of the Victorian fern craze when “about 1870 the fern was all taken from the bog at Forest Row”, though some other colonies did survive.
The first few of these less common species should be easy to locate, but the others are very rare.