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Prior to collecting my actual research data, I spent some time around Old Goginan, near Aberystwyth in North Ceredigion. The following pictures below are samples collected during a walk between Capel Bangor and Old Goginan. This was during the early stages of my ID explorations in May 2016, so if any of them are wrong please let me know! I have fine-honed my ID for my present work however, given the relatively fewer species I am examining.

The pictures aren’t nearly close-up enough for accuracy, but I hope will give a general indication…

  1. Athyrium filix-femina, Lady Fern

Characterised by the very dark scales along the stipe, and the shuttlecock formation of fronds. Easily confused with the Dryopteris  genus, but it’s appearance is much more ‘fountain’ like than shuttlecock in habit.

2. Blechnum spicant, Hard Fern or Deer Fern

Easily identified. The picture shows both the broader sterile and much more slender ‘fertile’ (i.e. spore-bearing) fronds.

3. Dryopteris aemula, Hay-scented Buckler

The random recurvation of the pinnae and pinnules gives this fern it’s unique appearance. This was found in only one place in the area where samples were taken, with just a few specimens present.

4. Dryopteris affinis, Golden-scaled Male Fern

Characterised by a stunning architectural formation, and densely packed golden brown scales along the stipe and into the rachis.

5. Dryopteris dilatata, Broad Buckler

Fairly lax in appearance, but with often rather flamboyant and large blades in the right conditions. Its scales are golden with a dark central smudge.

6. Dryopteris filix-mas, Male fern

The classic British woodland fern, forming a fairly lax shuttlecock formation. Golden scales along the stipe and into the rachis, but much less dense than those of D. affinis.

7. Polypodium vulgare, Common Polypody

Easily confused with other members of the Polypody family as many of them are very similar! Quite commonly seen growing in a variety of situations e.g. terrestrial, epiphytic.

8. Who knows! Possibly a hybrid?

I really have no idea about this one! The picture doesn’t show it very clearly but the stipe and rachis were very red/reddish-brown in colour. I did wonder if it might be a hybrid with a garden fern as there were residential properties in close proximity to the point of collection?


Obviously in terms of identification there are many other points to note such as the exact structure of the pinnae and pinnules, the arrangement of sori and their indusia. However this is merely my early investigation into identification, and I am presenting it as such. Again, I welcome any feedback!



There have been many!

Whilst I had initially been determined that soil moisture levels were the over-riding factor in the biogeographical distribution of pteridophytes, it quickly became clear to me that to utilise that data in isolation (at least within this piece of research) would be counter-productive. Having initially been interested in pteridophytes’ ability to reproduce in a variety of circumstances, I began to realise the following points:

a) Their presence does not appear to be restricted to soil moisture, therefore one must also consider light levels, soil pH, prevailing weather conditions and ambient temperature.

b) Their ability to reproduce sexually or clonally, or indeed apogamously in some cases, could have a significant bearing upon results.

c) How their presence (particularly in the case of Pteridium aquilinum) might impact upon the biodiversity of other botanical species. Which also raised eventual questions regarding Dryopteris spp. proving to be of a similar ilk albeit in a quite different environment. Therefore, raising the question of which pteridophyte genera is where? And thus forth what other botanical species are (or should be) there?

d) As alluded to above and in previous posts, it became clear that my initial thoughts of comparing Dryopteris filix-mas with Pteridium aquilinum were compounded by my education in fern identification. Having found that at various points Dryopteris affinis and Dryopteris dilatata were also present.

e) D. filix-mas appears to be present in areas where one might not usually expect it.

All of this led me to alter my initial Research Proposal, and the resulting final proposal submitted in November 2016 was subsequently titled “Comparison of the ecologies of Dryopteris agg. and Pteridium aquilinum”.

I undertook this change with direct reference to the points noted above, and also with the dawning realisation (and literary research) of the propensity for P. aquilinum to definitely impact upon biodiversity in Britain due to humankind’s land management practices allowing it to reproduce clonally in essence upon open grasslands. And furthermore, from the realisation that D. filix-mas (and possibly similar family members) has a similar potential to form, where conditions are favourable, a ‘green desert’ upon woodland floors.

In this way my research began to develop a two-pronged approach: Firstly, and foremostly as a study in how pteridophytes are able to adapt to changing ecosystems given their reproductive restrictions, and secondly if they could be a potential threat to biodiversity through their adaptable nature.




Having grown up in West Wales, and knowing the proposed transect for my research well (albeit from fleeting glances), it became clear to me that if I were to properly record data for the ferns in question I would need to divide the transect into its variety of visible ecosystems. Some of these were fairly standard (e.g. woodland, grassland, coastal), however during my initial investigations it became clear that there were indeed anomalies in the presence or absence of both Dryopteris and Pteridium. Most presence was expected, nevertheless I set about dividing the transect into a series of eight zones according to my own perception of the landscape, and my explorations therein further informed the tangent of my research and its development. Possibly not an accepted means of recording on an ecological basis! This transect essentially follows a public footpath. The map above delineates my selected zones, and a description of each is as follows:


Adjacent to the disused waterwheel at Llwyn-ysgaw. Principally boggy wetland, dominated by wild celery but with D. filix-mas present in areas close to the dry stone wall adjacent to the waterwheel and the remains of the wall nearby, and nearer the stream bed prior to it breaking into an area of more open marsh.


A culvert runs beneath the road from Zone 1 into Zone 2, thus channelling a stream into this zone of young woodland. Woodland species proliferate however D. filix-mas dominates, particularly in areas adjacent to the stream.


The stream runs adjacent to an old hedgerow, adjacent to arable land. Shaded yet also open. Very little evidence of pteridophytes here, three of four specimens of D. filix-mas close to the hedgerow and stream to the southerly point of the zone.


An interesting zone and possibly slightly overlooked due to its difficulties. Stream runs into open arable land within a deep ditch therefore semi-cultivated. Pteridium evident for the first time on the transect, in very close quarters to both the cultivated land and the stream. D. filix-mas present streamside mainly upon the westerly facing bank. This zone then runs into a deep valley, but recordings are maintained around the footpath area above this as the valley is inaccessible without assistance. However other Dryopteris species are noted as becoming increasingly prevalent, even if it is not possible to obtain recordings from them.


Here the footpath drops into the valley, and into what appears to be young woodland, however given the vagaries of the West Wales climate may simply be wind and weather worn trees. However here it becomes apparent that there are stands of Dryopteris dilatata, with occasional D. affinis and some evidence of D. filix-mas, particularly near the stream. Some epiphytic growth present.


In which the footpath wends its way up out of the valley and into open grasslands, with the stream and valley continuing to the north of the transect, before the stream outpours into the sea (inaccessible). Vast stands of P. aquilinum here, and visible across the entirety of the valley. Some instances of D. filix-mas, but diminutive in form.


Almost purely coastal, clifftops and associated vegetation. A vast stand of P. aquilinum near the cliff (and the headland of Penpeles), possibly some young bracken sporophytes within open grassland (but given the deep run of their rhizomes it is hard to be sure).


A different stream runs into this zone and then down into the sea. An interesting area. P. aquilinum occurs sporadically hugging the near-land coastline. D. filix-mas however appears closer to the rocky clifftops and shore, again in somewhat diminutive form but evidently thriving. Noted from within this rocky bay, a wall of presumed Dryopteris of unknown speciation, and very much inaccessible. Not part of this research maybe but it raises the question of salinity tolerance in that which is predominantly a woodland species?






My name is Ian Devereux, and I am a 3rd Year BSc (Hons) Wildlife & Plant Biology student at Glyndwr University. During the course of my studies I have developed what can only be described as a massive love for ferns. I have gardened for years and have always admired their architecture and usefulness in shady areas, but having discovered their biological intricacies during the course of my studies I am smitten!

I could very easily at this juncture begin a discourse regarding ferns’ reproductive cycle, ecologies and variation in species and adaptability. However, I think it is more important to provide a proper introduction to this blog and my intentions for it, an overview of my research to date, and future plans as they stand at present. So, without further ado…


I have become fascinated by ferns due to my discoveries within my research into them over the past couple of years. As a result of this I am writing my undergraduate dissertation upon them, and with this blog I hope to not only share my experiences of my research but also to invite feedback and discourse with regard to it. I am of course quite new to pteridology, and there are many other people, both academic and amateur, with a well-spring of experience and knowledge greater than mine. Therefore, as I tenuously track my progress within what is a rather public forum, I should be most grateful to hear the opinions and learn from the experience of others, and I hope that my research may be useful and interesting.


My interest in ferns was sparked initially by learning of their dual reproductive cycle (gametophytes and sporophytes), their history as aquatic plants hence their need (much like amphibians) to ‘return to water’ to breed, and history as sun-loving plants prior to transgenesis with hornworts allowing them to colonise areas of lower light levels. All of this made me realise that although they have limitations in their presence within ecosystems, that they are also potentially early colonisers of new/changing ecosystems due to their adaptability, depending upon species and their varying light tolerance and water stress resistance.

This led me to wonder how moisture levels affected the presence and spread of pteridophytes, therefore in April 2016 I submitted my Research Proposal, entitled “Comparison of the presence/absence of Pteridium aquilinum and Dryopteris filix-mas and associated soil moisture levels within a specific locality”. Within this proposal were details of my plans to record soil moisture and light levels over a set period of time in an area where both species were present (or indeed absent) at various points. The area I selected was a public footpath between Llwyn-ysgaw and Penpeles in Ceredigion (near Felinwynt, just North from Grid reference SN 22605 50307).

I have, over the summer of 2016, collected this data towards my dissertation. And during this process I have encountered a somewhat steep learning curve with regard to accurate identification, the strength and significance of data, and not to mention my discoveries of the potential impact of pteridophytes upon biodiversity. All of this will be discussed in future posts. As I begin the structuring of my dissertation research and final submission, I shall be discussing my findings over the past few months and hopefully beginning to plot a trajectory that may be of interest to fern enthusiasts and ecologists alike.

Again, any feedback shall be warmly welcomed!


Gardening Scotland 2015

Award winning Fern Show Garden at Gardening Scotland
Award winning Fern Show Garden at Gardening Scotland. Photo: Adrian Dyer
RBGE Show Garden sponsors
RBGE Show Garden sponsors. Photo: Adrian Dyer

Students on the Gardening Design Course at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh mounted a show garden at this year’s Gardening Scotland and walked away with a prestigious Silver-Gilt Medal and Best New Show Garden Award.
Designed by one of the students, Susanna Harley, the garden takes the visitor on a cryptogrammic journey around the four gardens of RBGE, picking up themes from each one. The student team , led by Rachel Bauley, spent months in the planning and preparation of the garden. They applied for and received a £500 grant from the BPS, whose assistance was acknowledged on the stand, as well as handing out BPS promotional literature. So in effect the BPS had a de facto presence at the Show at very little cost.
The garden lost out on a Gold Medal because the plants were not in pristine condition, but this was down to the very wet and windy conditions which would have wrecked any fern display. Maybe May is too early in the year to risk a fern show garden in Scotland, reliant as it was on ferns grown to maturity in softer conditions further south. A pity as the design was excellent and really deserved a Gold.
Frank McGavigan

Yvonne’s Book Blog

Yvonne’s Book Blog.

I’ve recently moved house. My advice is don’t unless you have to! If you do have to move and you’ve got a lot of books my next advice is to take a photo of your books on their shelves because the chances are they will not fit when you unpack them. I keep my Victorian fern books in a glass bookcase which is kept out of direct sunlight. My modern fern books go on a sturdy IKEA Billy Bookcase and I’m not so fussy about these.

When I came to unpack my old fern books and put them in their special bookcase not only did they not fit (I didn’t take a photo) but it took me all day! The reason is not that I’ve got thousands of them, just that I sat on the floor looking at each one in turn, trying to remember where I had acquired it, what were the circumstances and generally marvelling over the fantastic illustrations flowery language.

My first fern book which cost 50p is the little book by The Birkenheads who had a Fern Nursery in Sale near Manchester where I lived for 15 years (see my article in Pteridologist 2010). No sign of the nursery now but the range of ferns (allegedly 2,000 species and cultivars) was mind boggling. Needless to say I went on to acquire all 3 editions one of which was published with 2 different coloured covers. (Photo) This is the first sign of becoming a Pteridological Bibliophile!

The Birkenhead Books
The Birkenhead Books

My next important acquisition was from a very nice bookseller at an event at Dunham Massey in Cheshire. I fell in love with a slightly worn set of the 2 vols of Lowe’s British Ferns in their traditional green binding. I looked at them for ages; they cost £40 which I didn’t have on me (this was pre credit card days). The lady bookseller sidled up to me and said ‘you like those don’t you’? I explained that I did but didn’t have the £40 on me or even a cheque book.. ‘That’s OK’ she said. ‘Take them home and send me a cheque’. So I did!

I did my PhD at University of Central Lancashire based in Preston. When bored with my studies and statistics, or not out in the field, I used to wander down to the second-hand bookshop. One day I came across a copy of Britten’s European Ferns. To my mind the book was a most beautiful piece of art with gorgeous binding. I went in several times and drooled over the book. The bookseller asked why I didn’t buy it. I replied I couldn’t justify the expense at £70 but if it was still there when I got my PhD I would buy it for myself. ‘I’ll tell you what’ he said. ‘I’ll put it upstairs until that day’. What an incentive? It now sits in my glass bookshelf.

I had acquired a copy of Hooker’s British Ferns. It had black and white drawings with an annoying library mark on the spine (Lewisham Library Service) purchased from an antique shop in Pickering; cost £25. A copy with coloured plates eluded me as I couldn’t find a copy at a price I wanted to pay. A sad consequence is that one became available from the book collection of the late Graham Ackers. I desperately wanted the book and bid in the auction at the BPS AGM in Manchester and got it, mostly I think because of the generosity of the other potential bidders who knew I really wanted it. The book is a treasured possession.

Finally my last choice is a copy of Howe’s Derbyshire Ferns (1877) with a preface by the Rev Smith. One of the few books I have bought via the internet. It cost £25 but was falling apart so I had it put back together by Scriveners in Buxton; it cost more to get fixed! But it has been worth it and represents the happy hours of ferning spent in the Derbyshire Dales. What I can report (and I would be more than happy if someone proved me wrong) is that holly fern definitely doesn’t occur in Derbyshire, well not naturally anyway. I expect the Rev (who added the plate on this edition) was mixing up young Polystichum aculeatum which grow profusely, and sometimes strangely, in the Derbyshire limestone.

Before I finish I must mention the BPS Special Publication No 9 Fern Books by Nigel Hall and Martin Rickard. This contains some fascinating info on books you might already have but more importantly on books you might want or didn’t know you wanted! If you are a fern book lover and haven’t got it: why not? I suggest you put that right. Details are on this website.

I would be interested to hear about other members favourite fern books.

A little bit about Twitter!

One of the many really great things about the internet is finding other people who like the same things as you! And one of the best places to do this is on Twitter.

This is what a “Tweet” looks like:

Here is an example of a Tweet with a photo embedded:

As you can see, these little snippets of conversation and information are reaching out to other people who have an interest in ferns! Isn’t it wonderful to know you’re not alone?

The “British Native Ferns” on Facebook

This is a screen grab of the British Native fern album on Facebook
This is a screen grab of the British Native fern album on Facebook

As you can see, the British Native Ferns album on Facebook is coming along nicely! This was started as a way to keep being able to add new content every week to keep our fans on Facebook interested – I am calling it “Fern Friday” and am also hoping it will take off on Twitter!

This is a project that I hope to duplicate on here at some stage, but for now you can browse the album on Facebook by clicking HERE

Enjoy! 🙂