Plant of the day: lady fern

This sweet forest fern likes to grow in forests and streamsides. Lady fern (Athyrium felix-femina)  can grow fairly large; the lacy fronds are pale green and have a delicate texture, but can grow to more than 3 feet long. Each leaf is roughly diamond-shaped, with the largest leaflets in the middle, getting smaller towards both the top and the bottom. Unlike many ferns, lady fern doesn’t have a long bare stalk–the small lowest leaflets grow almost to the ground. As you can see in these photos, the leaflets are twice pinnate, and have crescent-shaped sori (or spore capsules) that grow close to the vein.

The root is edible, and was often eaten (roasted and peeled) by the Quileute tribe in the Pacific northwest. Woodsmen looked for it as a sign of nearby water. There are myriad medicinal uses recorded for this fern–particularly for feminine problems. Native Americans used it as a painkiller for labor, childbirth, and general body pains. Young fronds were eaten to treat cancer of the womb.

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