Spleenwort Ferns

By William T. Hathaway

Spleenwort Ferns

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines “spleenwort” as the belief in its power to cure disorders of the spleen. According to Gray's Manual of Botany the genus Asplenium was a name used by Dioscorides for some fern supposed to cure diseases of the spleen.

In our herbarium at Averett University we have recorded six members of the genus Asplenium as being part of the Pittsylvania County flora. The relatively common Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron) of rocky woods, old fields, thickets and roadsides throughout is familiar to most hikers. The much rarer Blackstem Spleenwort (Asplenium resiliens) inhabits shaded crevices within limestone or marl outcrops.

In the illustration, the arrows point to the different disposition of the primary divisions of the frond segments; note the difference between opposite and alternate positions.