Eloise Butler images

Ferns in the Wild Garden - 1919.

by Eloise Butler, from Annals of the Wild Life Reserve, 1919


[Note: Since Eloise Butler's time, the scientific names of plants and the classification of plant families has undergone extensive revision. In brackets within the text, have been added when necessary, the revised scientific name for the references she used in her article. Nomenclature is based on the latest published information from Flora of North America, USDA and the Annotated Checklist of the Vascular Flora of Minnesota. Other information in brackets may add clarification to what she is saying. In the listing below the article, species with a full identification sheet have a link on the name.]

Minnesota is not as rich as Vermont in ferns. How I envy Vermonters! Our university lists in its Fern Guide but thirty-eight species; but Warren Upham in his catalogue of Minnesota Flora printed in 1884 gives authority for these additional species: Asplenium platyneuron, Phegopteris Robertiana, Aspidium (Dryopteris) noveboracense, Aspidium bootii, Aspidium marginale, Aspidium acrostichoides [Note - this is an unresolved name], Aspidium lonchitis, Polystichum braunii, Cystopteris montana, Woodsia glabella, Woodsia oregana, Dicksonia punctilobula, Botrychium ternatum. I have introduced all of the above except Phegopteris Robertiana, Cystopteris montana, Woodsia glabella; and all listed in the University Fern Guide except Botrychium simplex, B. lunaria, Cheilanthes feei, Woodsia oregana.

Cinnamon Fern interrupted Fern Sensitive Fern

Ten ferns are indigenous to my garden: Osmunda claytonia which is one of the spectacular features of the place, clothing, as it does, an entire hillside with its tall fronds; Asplenium filix-femina forming large masses near the boulder bird bath and scattered throughout the garden; Adiantum pedatum gracing the foot paths and reaching unusual size in clumps in the tamarack swamp, where is also found in luxuriant growth Osmunda cinnamomea, and fine specimens of the evergreen Aspidium spinulosum and A. cristatum; the treeless portion of the swamp is carpeted with Aspidium thelypteris, and the meadow below the hillside of Clayton’s fern is crowded with Onoclea sensibilis; while Botrychium virginianum dots the entire region just above the marsh line. Of the ten natives, Pteris aquilina is the least abundant, but it is rapidly increasing on the sides of the knoll on which my office stands.

Maidenhair Fern Spinulose Wood Fern Lady Fern Ostrich Fern Crested Wood Fern

In my recently planted Fern Gulch, maidenhair, lady fern and Aspidium spinulosum are self-established. It was my aim to make a plantation in this gully of all the ferns native to Minnesota that were not indigenous in the garden and that could be induced to grow under the prevailing conditions of light and moisture. I see that I have omitted from my list of ferns in the Gulch Polypodium vulgare. This was obtained from the vicinity of Minneapolis and naturalized in the Garden. I have also introduced to the garden a few specimens of Aspidium fragrans, but I fear that they will die out.

Rusty Woodsia Silvery False Spleenwort Goldie's Fern

Christmas Fern

With the exception of a few roots of Aspidium cristatum and Aspidium thelypteris transferred from the swamp, and specimens of Camptosorus rhizophyllus, Cystopteris fragilis and C. bulbosa that were naturalized in the garden, the plants were all obtained from Gillett’s Nursery, Southwick Mass, vis: Aspidium filix-mas, A. noveboracense, A. spinulosum var dilatatum, A. cristatum var. Clintonianum, A. goldianum, A. marginale, Polystichum acrostichoides, P. braunii, Pellaea atropurpurea, Asplenium platyneuron, A. trichomanes, A. angustifolium, A. (Athyrium) acrostichoides (thelypteroides), Dicksonia punctilobula, Woodsia ilvensis, W. scopulina, W. obtusa, Phegopteris hexagonoptera, P. dryopteria, P. polypodioides. All these have been naturalized with more or less success elsewhere in the garden. The plants from the nursery were fine specimens and I hope that they will winter well. Most of the small species were pot-grown.

royal FernThe ferns were set out with reference to size and conditions of light and moisture as will as drainage. I have also outside of the Gulch well established Osmunda regalis and large colonies of Onoclea struthiopteris. These I did not place in the Gulch because of their need of space and more moisture. I have besides a few highly cherished specimens of the dainty little cliff brake, Cryptogramma stelleri, and Ophioglossum vulgatum; and when I left the Garden last November a quantity of Azolla caroliniana and Salvinia natans, planted during the summer, were bravely green on the surface of my little pond.

Of fern allies I have Equisetum arvense, E. hyemale, E. scirpoides, E. sylvaticum. One lone indigenous specimen of Lycopodium lucidulum has been noted in my swamp and I have introduced from time to time, with ill success, L. complanatum, L. clavatum, and L. obscurum var. dendroideum, also Selaginella rupestris.

I will faithfully record in the Bulletin next fall the haps and mishaps of my new fern plantation. (Note)


1. The reference to the "Bulletin" indicates Eloise forwarded her paper to The Gray Memorial Botanical Chapter, (Division D ) of the Agassiz Association for publication in the Asa Gray Bulletin. The Agassiz Association was founded in the late 1800‘s to be an association of local chapters that would combine the like interests of individuals and organizations in the study of Nature. Division D was based in Chicago. She had written an earlier version of this article in 1915 that was definitely published by Agassiz. Read it here.
2. Fern names: Since Eloise Butler’s day the botanical classification of a number of these ferns has changed. The list below details: 1) the name Eloise used, 2) a new name if there is one, 3) the common name, 4) dates she brought in the species to the Garden. 5) Indigenous species are noted, those possibly indigenous are marked with a "P".

Field Horsetail

Fern relatives:

Note: The ferns pictured in this article have an information sheet, with photos and descriptions, posted on this website. Use these links to locate them: Common Name List - Scientific Name List.