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Ferns in Britain and Ireland
A guide to ferns, horsetails, clubmosses and quillworts

Welcome to the Fern Site. This is a work in progress, so please be aware that I am continually adding to it and updating it. The current version contains images of most species of British and Irish ferns, including established alien species; also some subspecies and varieties. It does not yet cover hybrids - I hope to be able to include those soon.

The guide is arranged so that species can be accessed via the two main headings at the top of each page above (Ferns, and Clubmosses and Quillworts); in alphabetical order by genus via the left navigation bar; or via the index of names (Latin and English). There is no key, but again I hope to include one at a later stage. There are many good keys available in published works; there is also a good on-line key at fern-id (http://www.midwales.com/westhill/mydbfern/). The genus and species classification is based on a number of published sources. I have attempted to give the most up-to-date scientific names; with some species there is disagreement or ambiguity, for example in the classification of Hartstongue Fern and Rustyback Fern. In both these cases I have included them in genus Asplenium. All commonly used English and Latin names I have been able to find in publications of the last twenty years or so are included in the index (names used in these islands, that is. Some day I may get around to including names from other cultures and languages). I have not used classification by family to organise this guide, nor have I included family names in this version - the family organisation of ferns and so-called fern allies has been substantially modified in recent years, and is still not clear, so I have avoided the issue entirely at this stage.

The descriptions of genera and species (as and when I get around to writing them) are my own but are largely based on published sources - for a list of the main ones see the Resources section. I will include a list of more specialised publications such as scientific papers in later versions.

Several species are the subject of current research which may change the way they are classified. Bracken (Pteridium spp.) and Scaly Male Fern (Dryopteris affinis) are cases in point. Recent research has suggested one taxon often treated as a species should be considered a variety (Athyrium flexile, now treated as a variety of A.distentifolium) and one subspecies should probably be considered a separate species (Asplenium trichomanes subsp. pachyrachis, now treated separately as Asplenium csikii).

Hybrids, and some subspecies and varieties are not included in this version of the site - their names are included in the index but without links.

Alien species are covered - in this version only those species known to have established themselves for a substantial period of time in the wild. Several others have been recorded, and with the growing popularity of ferns in the garden it is likely that the number of alien species recorded will continue to increase.

Most of the images are my own, but there are also a number contributed by others. In these cases the full-size image bears a credit line giving the name of the photographer.

A word about classification. Bear with me. Since the nineteenth century the term "Pteridophytes" has been in general use to group together ferns along with horsetails, quillworts, spikemosses and clubmosses (also another group called whisk ferns, none of which occur in these islands). The latter groups are often referred to as fern allies. Among higher, vascular, plants, these groups have in common the fact that they reproduce via spores. The term Pteridophytes is used to distinguish them as a group from the seed-bearing plants, known as Spermatophytes. Recently, however, research combining phylogenetic and morphological studies has demonstrated this to be a false grouping. Ferns and horsetails (and whisk ferns) are more closely related than was previously thought (in fact, horsetails are essentially a type of fern); ferns as a whole are more closely related to seed-bearing plants than to quillworts, spikemosses and clubmosses. In this new set of relationships, quillworts, spikemosses and clubmosses are referred to as lycophytes. Ferns and seed-bearing plants are collectively referred to as euphyllophytes. The euphyllophytes are subdivided into spermatophytes (seed-bearing plants) and monilophytes (ferns, including horsetails and whisk ferns). In this guide, I have used the old Pteridophyte grouping to determine which plants are described, as this is so widely used in field guides, but I have separated them into the new groups of Lycophytes and Monilophytes, so horsetails now appear in the larger section on ferns.

It's obviously not very practical to use this guide in the field in its current state, but I hope it will prove useful as an aid to back up the existing field guides. I will be adding additional photographs and perhaps drawings as and when I can. I hope to have at least one good photograph of each species soon and hopefully most of the hybrids not too long after. Comments and suggestions gratefully received - please email the address given at the bottom of the page. Also: you can contribute to the development of this site, if you have good-quality images of ferns and would like to help out by filling in gaps and/or providing better-quality ones than I have already. Please email me to discuss formats and sizes.

Acknowledgements: many people have helped with this guide but in particular I would like to mention he following: Adrian Dyer, Frank McGavigan, Anthony Pigott, Andrew Leonard and Jenni Navratil for their help and encouragement at various stages of this project; Tony Harris and Tung Tsin Lam for technical assistance; Christopher Fraser-Jenkins, Ken Trewren and James Merryweather for their thoughts and research on the Dryopteris affinis group; Michael Hayward, Heather McHaffie, Andrew Leonard, Yvonne Golding, Matt Stribley, Ken Trewren and Howard Matthews for generously making available their images; and to all the people at the British Pteridological Society for their friendship, knowledge and humour.

What's new:

Dryopteris pseudodisjuncta

Dryopteris pseudodisjuncta

Photographed in South West Scotland, August 2010



Asplenium ceterach, Rustyback Fern Asplenium ceterach
Rustyback Fern

Dipahasiastrum alpinum, Alpine Clubmoss Diphasiastrum alpinum
Alpine Clubmoss

Dryopteris submontana, Limestone Buckler Fern Dryopteris submontana
Limestone Buckler Fern

Equisetum palustre, Marsh Horsetail Equisetum palustre
Marsh Horsetail

Pteridium aquilinum ssp. pinetorum, Pinewood Bracken
Pteridium aquilinum ssp. pinetorum
Pinewood Bracken
© Text, images and design copyright Roger Golding unless otherwise stated. Contact e-mail: rg@rogergolding.co.uk