Woodwardia virginica

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Virginia chain fern

Secure (NatureServe)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pteridophyta
Class: Pteridopsida
Order: Polypodiales
Family: Blechnaceae
Genus: Woodwardia
Species: W. virginica
Binomial name
Woodwardia virginica
(Linnaeus) Smith.

Blechnum virginicum Linnaeus, Mant.
Anchistea virginica (Linnaeus) C. Presl

Woodwardia virginica (Virginia chain fern, Woodwardie de virginie) is a leptosporangiate fern with long creeping, scaly, underground stems or rhizomes which give rise to tall (up to about 4 feet, 120 centimetres) widely separated, deciduous, single leaves. In contrast, the leaves of Osmundastrum cinnamomeum, which can be mistaken for W. virginica, grow in a group from a crown. Also in contrast to O. cinnamomeum the leaves are monomorphic without distinct fertile fronds. The lower petiole or stipe is dark purple to black, shiny and swollen, the upper rachis is dull green. The leaf blade is green and lanceolate, composed of 12 to 23 paired, alternate pinnatifid pinnae. The pinnae are subdivided into 15 to 20 paired segments that are ovate to oblong. The lower rachis is naked for about half its length. The sori or spore-producing bodies are found on the underside of the pinnae and are long and form a double row which outlines the major veins of the pinnae. In common with all ferns, W. virginica exhibits a gametophyte stage in its life cycle (alternation of generations) and develops a haploid reproductive prothallus as an independent plant. The spores are produced in red-brown sori which line the spaces (areolae) between the costa and costules. Further photographs can be found at the Connecticut Botanical Society and Ontario Ferns websites.


W. virginica has been found as a fossil in the Middle Miocene of Central Washington state.[1] At that time it apparently grew in similar habitats and was associated with similar species to the present.


Endemic to eastern North America from Florida to Nova Scotia and west to Michigan and Illinois. W. virginica is mostly found on the Atlantic coastal plain and Piedmont although it also grows in the eastern Great Lakes region as far west as Illinois. The Flora of North America website has a distribution map.

Ecology and conservation

W. virginica grows in the wet soils of open wet swampy woods, acid bogs, and along streams and roadside ditches,[2] avoiding calcareous substrates. W. virginica is an important constituent of the field layer of flatwoods, Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) swamp forest and bay (Magnolia virginiana) forests.[3]

Cultivation and uses

File:Woodwardia virginica.jpg
Detail of Woodwardia virginica frond

The plant is occasionally cultivated as a greenhouse or garden ornamental. Hardy to USDA Zone 3.


  1. Pigg, K. B.; Rothwell, G. W. (2001). Anatomically Preserved Woodwardia virginica (Blechnaceae) and a New Filicalean Fern from the Middle Miocene Yakima Canyon Flora of Central Washington, USA.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. McVaugh, R.; Pyron, J. H. (1951). Ferns of Georgia. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Barbour, M. G.; Billings, W. D. (2000). North American Terrestrial Vegetation (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Barbour, M. G., and Billings, W. D. (2000). North American Terrestrial Vegetation. 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Cobb, B. (1984). A Field Guide to Ferns and their Related Families of Northeastern and Central North America. Peterson Field Guides.
  • Gleason, H. A. and Cronquist, A. (1963). Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Van Nostrand, New York.

External links