Pioneer Valley Fern Society

Fall Fern Season!

Hay Scented Ferns in Fall

As we move towards winter many of our local ferns will fade away until next year. But their changing colors only add to the beauty of the autumn season. One of our most common ferns, Hay-Scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) will range in color from pale green to white, as in this photo. They are one of the ferns that can still be identified well into winter by certain key characteristics. First by the way they grow as single stems, and often in dense colonies, along roadsides, trails & disturbed areas. They are in the same family as Bracken ferns, and both grow from rhizomes rather than in clumps like most ferns. The next thing to look for is the lowest part of the stem or stipe. Hay-Scented Ferns have stems with fine hairs and a lovely burnished mahogany color at the base, even through winter. You might also be able to tell that the blade or leafy part is thrice-cut, so it looks lacy.

When I was first learning ferns, I would often get confused between Hay-Scented, Lady and New York Ferns. Without going into too much detail, the Lady Ferns are thrice-cut like Hay-Scented, but their sori or fruit dots have a herringbone pattern, which is distinctive to only a few ferns. Hay-Scented sori are just small dots. Lady Ferns are also identified by their fairly translucent stems with scattered dark brown scales. They grow in irregular clumps. New York Ferns are twice-cut, so not as lacy, and have pinnae that get smaller & smaller all the way down the stem to almost the ground.

The New York ferns have already turned brown and crinkly leaved, but you can still see the bottom pinnae getting smaller and smaller. The LadyFerns are still recognizable by the features described above. Hay-Scented Ferns hold their form longer than many of the non-evergreen ferns, one of the group I sometimes call "ghost ferns" this time of year because of their pretty white color.

I hope you enjoy this wonderful weather and autumn colors!