Pioneer Valley Fern Society

2022-2023 Winter Ferns

#6 Ebony Spleenwort

Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron) is not found as often as Maidenhair Spleenwort in our area, but it can be common when it has the right conditions. It can be found in a variety of habitats, from old fields to woods, mossy rock faces and even in old stone walls. We have found lovely groups of them growing in the stone walls of old cemeteries, where there was mortar between the stones. They grow throughout the Northeast, down to Florida and west.

The sterile lower fronds remain green, but the taller fertile fronds turn brown and wither in the winter. The fertile fronds grow upright and are generally up to 12" in height, while the sterile fronds are much shorter, more numerous, and generally grow horizontally along or near the ground. At first they may be confused with Maidenhair Spleenwort, but if you look closely at the pinnae (leaflets), you will see the little "ears" at the base of each leaflet, much like the Christmas Fern's "stocking" or "sleigh". It is very uncommon to find Maidenhair and Ebony Spleenworts growing together, so you probably won't have a chance to do a side-by-side comparison. The Maidenhair Spleenwort pinnae are oval and do not have those "ears", and the plant as a whole has a more circular arrangement of the fronds.

This photo is from a nice community of Ebony Spleenwort on Bull Hill, but there is also a nice patch on North Mountain Rd. Also check your old cemetery stone walls!