Plant Guide > Ferns > Royal Fern

Royal Fern



The Royal Fern is the most stately of the British ferns, well deserves its name, and is, from its appearance, readily distinguished from all others. Its flowery panicle crowns the otherwise leafy fronds, and rises three, or even four feet high, and sometimes attaining a height of eight or ten feet. In old plants the stem assumes the appearance of a trunk, and from the crown of this trunk grow the fronds, which are bipinnate; the pinnae lanceolate or ovate lanceolate; the pinnules oblong and nearly egg-shaped. They are somewhat ear-shaped at the base, and mostly opposite. The upper portion of the frond is so densely covered with the brown clusters of capsules as to look like a spike of small flowers. The barren frond is entirely leafy. The plant appears in May, and is matured in August, but is destroyed by the early winter frosts.

This beautiful fern is to be found in most marshy, boggy situations throughout Britain. It is extremely abundant and luxuriant in some parts of Ireland, and at Killarney assumes a pendulous form, fringing the river between the lakes, and forming a prominent feature in the lovely scenery of that district. It is said that when Sir Walter Scott visited this far-famed district, he appeared but little interested in the scenery until coming upon the spot where the water is fringed by these magnificent ferns, he exclaimed, "This is worth coming to see." In the northern counties of England, the Osmunda is not uncommon. In the bogs of Lancashire it is frequently seen, and in the southern counties it is very plentiful. Old Gerarde knew of its existence near Brentwood, and when describing its stem, which, on being cut through, exhibits a whitish centre, he calls it the " Heart of Osmund the Waterman," referring to a tradition existing, that a waterman of this name, dwelling at Loch Fyne, on one occasion bravely defended his family from the cruel Danes, and sheltered them among the tall branches of this magnificent plant.

The medicinal properties of the Flowering Fern are extolled by old writers as having "all the virtues mentioned in other ferns, and is much more effectual than they both for inward and outward griefs, and is accounted ' good in wounds, bruises, or the like. The decoction to be drunk, or boiled into an ointment of oil as a balsam or balm; and so it is singular good against bruises and bones broken or out of joint." The root, when boiled, yields a sort of mucilage, which, in the North of Europe, is used for stiffening linen.

This showy and attractive fern should find a place in all collections. It is not difficult of culture, and thrives well on the margin of a piece of water, or on rock-work near water. On the banks of ponds or lakes, and in a damp peaty soil, with plenty of moisture, it will attain its natural luxuriance.

Mr. Ward, the inventor of the closed plant cases, and the cultivator and lover of ferns, so arranged an artificial watercourse, in his little garden at Clapham, as to grow Osmunda regalis, and other bog plants, with great success.