L'Hér. ex Ait.
Comptonia aspleniifolia (L.) L'Hér.
Comptonia is a monotypic genus (containing only Comptonia peregrina) in the family Myricaceae, order Fagales. It is native to eastern North America, from southern Quebec south to the extreme north of Georgia, and west to Minnesota. The common name is sweetfern or sweet-fern, a confusing name as it is not a fern.
It is a deciduous shrub, growing to 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) tall. The leaves of the plant are linear to lanceolate, 3–15 centimetres (1.2–5.9 in) long and 0.3–3 centimetres (0.12–1.18 in) broad, with a modified dentate, pinnately lobed margin; they give off a sweet odor, especially when crushed. The flowers are imperfect, meaning that no one flower has both sex parts. It tends to grow on dry sandy sites, and is associated with pine stands.
Comptonia peregrina is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including Bucculatrix paroptila, grey pug, setaceous Hebrew character, Io moth, and several Coleophora case-bearers: C. comptoniella, C. peregrinaevorella (which feeds exclusively on Comptonia), C. persimplexella, C. pruniella and C. serratella. It is also a non-legume nitrogen fixer.
Uses and consumption
The plant produces a bristly burr that contains 1 to 4 edible nutlets.
The aromatic leaves (fresh or dried) are also used to make a tea. The Canadian author Catharine Parr Traill includes it in her book The Female Emigrant's Guide in a list of substitutes for China tea. "When boiled," she notes, "it has a slightly resinous taste, with a bitter flavour, that is not very unpleasant." Mistaking it, like others, for a fern, she says that it is in high repute "among the Yankee and old Canadian housewifes (sic)." The plant has also been used as a seasoning.
- Peter Alden and Brian Cassie (1999). National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Mid-Atlantic States (1st ed.). Chanticleer Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-679-44682-6.
- "The female emigrant's guide, and hints on Canadian housekeeping". Toronto Public Library. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
- "Comptonia peregrina - (L.)J.M.Coult". PFAF. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
- USDA Plants Profile for Comptonia peregrina (sweet fern)
- Flora of North America: Comptonia peregrina
- "Comptonia peregrina". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
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