asplenium scolopendrium scolopendrum harts tongue fern

by Marc Bartsch
Asplenium scolopendrium is an interesting fern.  It is native to England and the US but the British native is widely used and common in European gardens, prized for its hardiness and reliability.  The true US version is however quite rare, the distinguishing difference,…the American variety has a chromosome count of 144 while the European variety has a count of 72.  It can be a smaller plant, but determining the difference is quite hard.

asplenium scolopendrium mosaic

1. Asplenium scolopendrium, 2. Asplenium scolopendrium, 3. Hart’s Tongue Fern, 4. A curl

The Hart’s Tongue fern is a very distinct form of fern, in that it has broad, strap-like fronds, quite unlike the delicately cut types of more familiar varieties. They have a short stem and can grow to any length from 4 to 24in (10 to 60cm) depending on where you plant them. The shorter ones are usually found growing in walls or crevices. In the garden, Hart’s tongue fern is stunning next to epimediums (Bishop’s cap) or soleirolias (Baby’s tears) planted at its feet.

In Tennessee the American Hart’s-Tongue Fern occurs deep within limestone sinks, surrounded by forest and graced by mountain streams and waterfalls. I am fascinated by this description of the main naturally occurring location of the rare fern.  I dream of being a plant hunter.

” The South Pittsburg location is perched halfway up the slope of the Cumberland Plateau within a rugged cove. The sinkhole is approximately 30 feet wide by 75 feet long and 75 feet deep. A waterfall cascades down one corner of the sink and the water disappears into a crack at the opposite corner only to emerge again well down in the valley bottom. The vegetation surrounding the sink is green and lush, bathed by the mist from the waterfall. The remaining ferns are shaded by the steep sides of the sink and cooled by the shade and mist from the waterfall. And to make the site more treacherous, Stinging Nettle guards the access down into the sink. ”   -David Lincicome in the Tennessee Conservationist.

It is a lovely plant worth seeking out. Have you grown it? What have you paired it with?

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