Asplenium scolopendrium

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Asplenium scolopendrium
Asplenium scolopendrium.jpg

Apparently Secure (NatureServe)[1]

Vulnerable (NatureServe)[2] (var. americanum)
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Division: Polypodiophyta
Class: Polypodiopsida
Order: Polypodiales
Suborder: Aspleniineae
Family: Aspleniaceae
Genus: Asplenium
A. scolopendrium
Binomial name
Asplenium scolopendrium
  • Asplenium altajense (Kom.) Grubov
  • Asplenium scolopendrium subsp. antri-jovis (Kümmerle) Brownsey & Jermy
  • Asplenium sarelii f. altajense Kom.
  • Biropteris antri-jovis Kümmerle
  • Phyllitis antri-jovis (Kümmerle) Seitz
  • Phyllitis fernaldiana Á. Löve
  • Phyllitis japonica Kom.
  • Phyllitis japonica subsp. americana (Fernald) Á. Löve & D. Löve
  • Phyllitis lindenii (Hook.) Maxon
  • Phyllitis scolopendrium (L.) Newman
  • Phyllitis scolopendrium var. americana Fernald
  • Phyllitis scolopendrium var. scolopendrium (L.) Newman
  • Scolopendrium lindenii Hook.
  • Scolopendrium officinarum Sw.
  • Scolopendrium scolopendrium (L.) H. Karst.
  • Scolopendrium vulgare Sw.

Asplenium scolopendrium, commonly known as the hart's-tongue fern,[3] is an evergreen fern in the genus Asplenium native to the Northern Hemisphere.


The most striking and unusual feature of the fern is its simple, undivided fronds. The leaves' supposed resemblance to the tongue of a hart (an archaic term for a male red deer) gave rise to the common name "hart's-tongue fern".


Linnaeus first gave the hart's-tongue fern the binomial Asplenium scolopendrium in his Species Plantarum of 1753.[4] The Latin specific epithet scolopendrium is derived from the Greek skolopendra, meaning a centipede or millipede; this is due to the sori pattern being reminiscent of a myriapod's legs.[5][6]

A global phylogeny of Asplenium published in 2020 divided the genus into eleven clades,[7] which were given informal names pending further taxonomic study. A. scolopendrium belongs to the "Phyllitis subclade" of the "Phyllitis clade".[8] Members of the Phyllitis clade have undivided or pinnatifid leaf blades with a thick, leathery texture, persistent scales on their stalk, and often possess anastomosing veins. Members of the Phyllitis subclade have undivided leaves with freely branching veins and single or paired sori. They are widely distributed through the Northern Hemisphere.[9] Its closest relative within the subclade is A. komarovii, with which it forms a clade (the former segregate genus Phyllitis), sister to A. sagittatum.[8]

Three variations or subspecies are currently known:

  • A. scolopendrium var. scolopendrium, the most common variation, is native to Eurasia and North Africa;
  • A. scolopendrium var. americanum, a threatened variation, is native to the United States and Canada;
  • A. scolopendrium var. lindenii, the least-studied variation, is native to Mexico and Hispaniola.

Morphological differences between the variations are minor, but the North American variations (i.e. americanum and lindenii) are tetraploid, while the Old World variation (i.e. scolopendrium) is diploid.[10] Some taxonomists group lindenii with americanum, leaving just two variations.


Asplenium scolopendrium is a common species in the Old World:

In North America, it occurs in rare, widely scattered populations located in different locales:


The plants grow on neutral, calcium-rich, and/or lime-rich substrates under deciduous hardwood canopies (usually sugar maples in eastern North America), including moist soil and damp crevices in old walls; they are found most commonly in shaded areas. Plants in full sun are usually stunted and yellowish in colour, while those in full shade are dark green and healthy. The disjunct populations of the North American variation in the southeastern US are found exclusively in sinkhole pits or limestone caves.[18] These populations may be relics of cooler Pleistocene climates.[15]


United States[edit]

In the United States, A. scolopendrium var. americanum was declared endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1989.[18] The reasons for its rarity are currently being researched, with reintroduction programs in New York and elsewhere also in development.[19]


Ontario, Canada has the highest population numbers of A. scolopendrium var. americanum of any region in the variation's distribution, with around 80% of all subpopulations and around 94% of all individuals. The fern was reported at more than 100 sites across the province, with around 75 still believed to be existing. Despite this, A. scolopendrium var. americanum was listed as a species of Special Concern under the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario in May 2017, due to its extremely specific habitat requirements, relatively small distribution, and some subpopulations consisting of too little individuals.[20][21]


In spite of being much more common in Europe than in North America (and therefore present in more protected areas), A. scolopendrium is still declining in certain areas of the continent. The fern was listed as "Vulnerable" in the National Red Lists for Albania in 2014[22] and Norway in 2010 (under Criterion D1);[23] considered "critically threatened and rare" in the Czech Republic's 2012 plant Red List;[24] and "Endangered" in Sweden's 2010 Red List.[25] However, it was not considered threatened in Germany's 1996 Red List of Threatened Plants.[26] A. scolopendrium is protected by law in the Netherlands since 1998.[27]



Asplenium scolopendrium is often grown as an ornamental plant, with several cultivars selected with varying frond form, including with frilled frond margins, forked fronds and cristate forms. The species has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit,[28] as has the cultivar 'Angustatum'.[29]

The American variation is reputed to be difficult to cultivate (making conservation efforts for it even more troublesome); due to this, most, if not all, cultivated individuals are derived from the Old World variation.[30]

Herbal medicine[edit]

This fern was used in the 1800s as a medicinal plant in folk medicine as a spleen tonic (hence an archaic name for the genus, "spleenworts") and for other uses.[31]



  1. ^ "NatureServe Explorer 2.0". Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  2. ^ "NatureServe Explorer 2.0". Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  3. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  4. ^ Linnaeus 1753, p. 1079.
  5. ^ Harrison, Lorraine (2012). RHS Latin for Gardeners. United Kingdom: Mitchell Beazley. ISBN 978-1845337315.
  6. ^ "Flora Europaea Search Results". Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  7. ^ Xu et al. 2020, p. 27.
  8. ^ a b Xu et al. 2020, p. 30.
  9. ^ Xu et al. 2020, p. 41.
  10. ^ "Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum in Flora of North America". Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  11. ^ "Asplenium scolopendrium L. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  12. ^ Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist and atlas with biological attributes for the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, N.C.
  13. ^ "Tropicos | Name - Asplenium scolopendrium L." Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  14. ^ "Species Status Assessment : Report for the American Hart's-tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum)". November 2019. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  15. ^ a b Short, John W.; Spaulding, Daniel D. (2012). Ferns of Alabama. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 9780817356477.
  16. ^ Snyder, D.B. 1990. Botanist, New Jersey Natural Heritage Program. Personal communication with Wayne Ostlie, MRO, The Nature Conservancy.
  17. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-11-11. Retrieved 2021-11-11.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ a b Currie, Robert R. (September 1993). American hart's-tongue recovery plan (PDF) (Report). Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
  19. ^ Michael Serviss. "Experimental Reintroduction of American Hart's-Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum) : Factors Affecting Successful Establishment of Transplants". Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  20. ^ "Ontario Species at Risk Evaluation Report for American Hart's-tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum)" (PDF). Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  21. ^ "American Hart's Tongue Fern". Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  22. ^ "The National Red List Project | A focal point for national red lists and species action plans". Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  23. ^ Kålås, J.A., Viken, Å. and Bakken, T. (eds). 2006. Norsk Rødliste 2006 – 2006 Norwegian Red List. Artsdatabanken.
  24. ^ Grulich, V. 2012. Red List of vascular plants of the Czech Republic: 3rd edition. Preslia 84: 631-645.
  25. ^ Gärdenfors, U. 2010. Rödlistade arter i Sverige - The 2010 Red List of Swedish Species. ArtDatabanken, SLU, Uppsala.
  26. ^ Ludwig, G. and Schnittler, M. 1996. Red List of Threatened Plants in Germany (Rote Liste gefährdeter Pflanzen Deutschlands). Bundesamt für Naturschutz, Bonn.
  27. ^ "Flora- en faunawet". Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  28. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Asplenium scolopendrium". Retrieved 12 February 2020.
  29. ^ "Asplenium scolopendrium 'Angustatum'". Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  30. ^ Mickel, John T. (2003). Ferns for American Gardens. Timber Press. ISBN 9780881925982. This book is a reprinting of Mickel, John T. (1994). Ferns for American Gardens. MacMillan. ISBN 9780025844919.
  31. ^ Hill, John (1812). The family herbal: or An account of all those English plants, which are remarkable for their virtues, and of the drugs which are produced by vegetables of other countries; with their descriptions and their uses, as proved by experience. C. Brightly and T. Kinnersley. p. 162.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hyde, H. A., Wade, A. E., & Harrison, S. G. (1978). Welsh Ferns. National Museum of Wales. ISBN 0-7200-0210-9.
  • Parker, Rosemarie (December 2009). "A Real Rarity". Finger Lakes Native Plant Society. A popular article on hart's tongue fern that includes several references and a discussion of cultivation possibilities for the European and American varieties. The article strongly discourages collection and or cultivation of the North American variety.

External links[edit]