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Lobed Spleenwort: A Rare and Beautiful Fern

Lobed Spleenwort: A Rare and Beautiful Fern

Lobed spleenwort (Asplenium pinnatifidum) is a small fern that grows in rock crevices in the Appalachian Mountains and the Shawnee Hills. It has bright green, wrinkled, lobed fronds that form evergreen tufts. It is a rare and beautiful plant that deserves more attention and conservation.

Lobed spleenwort was first described by Thomas Nuttall in 1818 as a separate species from walking fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum), which it resembles in having long-tapering leaf blades. However, lobed spleenwort has more lobed leaves than walking fern, and does not produce new plants from its leaf tips. Lobed spleenwort is believed to have originated by chromosome doubling in a hybrid between walking fern and mountain spleenwort (Asplenium montanum), a phenomenon known as alloploidy. However, the parental hybrid has never been found in nature.

Lobed spleenwort prefers moderately acid to subacid rocks, such as sandstone, quartzite, schist, and gneiss. It grows in moist, shaded habitats, such as cliffs, ledges, boulders, and rock outcrops. It can tolerate some drought and frost, but not fire or grazing. It is mostly found in the eastern United States, from New York to Alabama, with some disjunct populations in Missouri and Arkansas. It is also reported from Ontario, Canada.

Lobed spleenwort is a perennial plant that reproduces by spores. The spores are produced in linear sori on the underside of the leaf blades. The sori are covered by thin, brown indusia that curl back when mature. The spores are dispersed by wind or water, and germinate into tiny gametophytes that produce male and female gametes. The gametes fuse to form a new sporophyte plant.

Lobed spleenwort is a rare and threatened species due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation. It is listed as apparently secure by NatureServe, but as endangered or vulnerable by several state agencies. It is also protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Some of the threats to its survival include quarrying, mining, logging, road construction, recreational activities, invasive plants, and climate change.

Lobed spleenwort is a beautiful fern that adds diversity and interest to the rock habitats where it grows. It is also an important indicator of environmental quality and stability. It deserves more recognition and protection from human impacts. Lobed spleenwort is a living fossil that has survived for millions of years through natural selection and adaptation. It is a testament to the resilience and beauty of nature.

If you want to see lobed spleenwort in the wild, you need to be careful and respectful of its habitat. Do not disturb or damage the rocks where it grows, and do not collect or transplant the plants. You can take photos or make sketches of the ferns, but do not touch or harm them. You can also help lobed spleenwort by supporting conservation efforts and raising awareness about its status and threats. You can join or donate to organizations that protect rare plants and their habitats, such as the Center for Plant Conservation, the Nature Conservancy, or the Native Plant Society. You can also educate yourself and others about the importance and beauty of lobed spleenwort and other ferns.

Lobed spleenwort is a unique and fascinating plant that deserves our admiration and appreciation. It is a living link between the past and the present, a reminder of the diversity and complexity of life on Earth. It is a rare and beautiful fern that enriches our natural heritage.

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