Dryopteris filix-mas (Male Fern)

Filix means fern in Latin and I find these plants fascinating. There is nothing like an unrolling fern to give a sense of mystery to a garden. Ferns are amazing survivors from a time before there where flowering plants. The Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) grows all around Godalming and the Downs, especially under the trees on the steep slopes of the sunken lanes.

The native ferns like the Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) are already shown in 16 and 17th century herbals, but then the scientific name was Filix Mas.

Illustration: Mannetjesvaren, Caspar Luyken, 1698

In one of the oldest herbals Dodoens draws and describes the fern “Varen manneken” in great detail and compares it with Filix faemina. He notes Filix mas is found at the side of roads and fields, in places of moist ground, while Filix faemina is found in forests and hills.

Later the genus name Dryopteris was added, so the scientific name became Dryopteris filix-mas. It comes from Greek dryas meaning oak and pteris meaning fern. It is often found in oak forests, as you can see in the forests around Surrey.

Book page: Filix Mas from the herbal of Dodoens, Cruijdeboeck first edition 1554.

Ernst Haeckel - Kunstformen der Natur (1904), plate 92.

The illustration from Ernst Haeckel shows ferns and tree ferns in Java. It is a romantised jungle setting typical of 20th Century publications. A nice illustration of the different shapes ferns have and how they can be combined to create the feel of a lush place. Today, the Dicksonia antarctica is often grown in the UK but there are many different species.

Kew Gardens is now doing research on (tree) ferns in New Guinea to discover which tree ferns are threatened. It supports Kew’s project identifying Tropical Important Plant Areas in Indonesian New Guinea to help inform their protection.

Ernst Haeckel – Kunstformen der Natur (1904), plate 92: Filicinae at the Tjiburrum waterfalls near Tjibodas, Mount Gede, Java.