Pioneer Valley Fern Society

2022-2023 Winter Ferns

#10 Dissected Grape Fern

Dissected Grape Fern (Sceptridium dissectum) is one of our overwintering ferns. Despite its fine texture and fragile appearance, it remains upright and perky through the winter. The frond starts to fade as the new fiddlehead emerges in the summer. The Dissected or Cut Leaf Grape Fern usually turns a beautiful bronze in the fall and winter, as in this photo, taken at Chard Pond in December 2022. Unfortunately with all the recent snow, most of our ferns are now out of sight, under the snow.

The sterile fronds are triangular and often held parallel to the ground. and usually smaller than one's outspread hand. They are quite variable in how dissected they are. The more highly dissected ones, like this photo, are sometimes considered a separate variety (Sceptridium dissectum var dissectum). Dissected Grape Ferns are generally found in unmowed fields, sometimes in open woods or along trails. Under the right conditions, you can find many scattered through a field in the fall, a wonderful find!

Grape Ferns are in the Ophioglossaceae or Adder's Tongue Family, which has a lot of lovely and unusual ferns. These include the rare Adder's Tongue, usually uncommon Moonworts, Rattlesnake Ferns (which we do see around our area) and the Grape Ferns. Mostly we see the Dissected Grape Ferns on our fern forays throughout the area. We have to really search to find any of the other grape ferns.

The pretty frond that you see in the photo is the sterile frond. The fertile frond comes up in the fall and is quite striking with its beautiful yellow sporangia (turning brown later in year), which look like clusters of grapes (hence the common name). The fertile frond was still there in December, and you can see the bottom of its stem (stipe) to the left of the dissected sterile frond. The fertile and sterile fronds are united underground but diverge just above the ground level.

Once the snow melts you should be able to see the Dissected Grape Ferns again. We are looking forward to the first Fiddleheads of 2023!