"No, you shall haunt that wood no longer!" exclaimed
Esther, as, having crossed the footbridge over the brook, I turned to
take the path to the right which led directly up the little wooded dell.
"I am going to take you on to the hills to-day, that you may experience
the invigorating influence of the moor air."
I sighed heavily. Going regularly on with my dear
fern-book, I had come to a group of ferns called Lastræa,
or Shield - Ferns, and characterised by having a kidney-shaped cover
over their seed-masses. I remembered the elegant ferns that waved over
the fossil rocks, and I knew that they had covers of this shape. But
Esther was bent on my going on the moor!
A noble crown of graceful fern was growing beside the
ascending path; and I observed it just as I had groaned over my small
disappointment. I gathered a frond. Instead of it being triangular in
form, like those I was
longing for in the wood, it resembled rather
the prickly ferns; but it was broader than they in the middle, and
tapered very gracefully to apex and
the base. Plentiful seed-masses were sprinkled over the backs of the
slightly-notched leaflets, and, upon using my lens, I found that the
covers were kidney-shaped. This, then, must be what is commonly called
the Male-Fern, (Las-trœa
Filix-mas, figs. 1 and a.)
1__Lastraea Filix-mas. 2.—Lastræa.
4.—L. Spinulosa. 5;—L. Thelypteris. 6.—L. Rigida.
I called Esther's attention. "Here, you see, is a
member of the third group of the second family of ferns. The seed -
masses being covered and placed on the back of the frond prove it to
belong to the Aspidiaceæ,
and the covers being kidney-shaped proves it a Lastræa.
This is the commonest of the Shield-ferns.''
Esther was greatly interested. She plunged into the
thicket, and brought out a handful of the very fern that my heart was
"This is the most graceful fern we have, at least
according to my fancy," she said. "The hue of its foliage is most
beautiful in spring, and even now its freshness is charming. Give me
your glass. Yes, you see the covers are kidney-shaped."
''They are less decidedly so than in the Male-Fern,
but I am satisfied that this is also a Lastræa.
You observe that there are a double set of pinnœ
from the larger pinnae,— these are called pinnules. The
frond is triangular in form, the base being nearly as broad as the sides
are long. This is the Spreading Shield-Fern, Lastrœa
By a little gate we passed from the steep wood to a
yet steeper pasture; but as from time to time we paused for breath, the
view that we turned to behold became more and more extensive and
beautiful. The pretty wood at our feet—my wood— with here and there a
glimpse of its noisy stream, the sloping lawn around my cousin's house,
and the wild rocks and woods topped by purple moors above it—all this
lay right before us; while to the left, bounded by hills grayer and yet
more gray, stretched the wide valley of the Swale.
As we passed along the foot-road across the fields, I
referred again to my book. Within it lay a fern which covered its page,
and a part of a frond of another kind. These had come in by the post
that very day from a friend in Cheshire, to whom I had written with much
enthusiasm regarding my new pursuit. I had been examining them when
called upon by Esther to prepare for our ramble, and so had laid them
within the book and brought them with me. Esther inquired what they
"This," I said, referring to my friend's letter, "is
a fern principally found on mountains in the north of England. This
frond is from a plant which grew on Ingleborough. On the lower pinnae
the leaflets are opposite, on the upper alternate. The general form
of the frond is that of a long-triangle ; but sometimes the lower
pinnae are shorter than the middle ones, and so make it more in the
form of the Male-Fern. Its kidney-shaped covers prove it to be a
Lastrsea, (fig. 6.) This, of which there is only a portion, comes from a
bog on Knutsford Moor, near to where my friend lives. It grows in wet
ground; hence its name, Marsh Shield-Fern, (Lastræa
Thelypteris, fig. 5.) Some of the fronds are barren, and some
fertile. The fertile fronds appear first, and the seed-masses are placed
between the mid-vein and the margin of the leaflet. In the earlier
stages of their growth, a small, white, kidney-shaped cover lies upon
the centre of each seed-mass; but this falls off before the seed attains
maturity. The rhizoma is slender and creeping, and the stalk long
and slight. The form of the frond is what is called linear—that
is, much longer than broad, and tapering to the ends."
Emerging on to the moor, the air seemed laden with
the sweet perfume of the Ling. The rich purple was varied by patches of
verdant green; and upon reaching one of these, I found two ferns
decidedly different from those that I had hitherto become familiar with.
One bore a great resemblance to the Spreading Shield-Fern; but it was
smaller, less decidedly triangular, and the paler foliage was much
curled. It answered the description of the Prickly-toothed Shield-Fern,
Spinulosa, fig. 4.) The covers, though small, were undoubtedly
The other fern was of the gracefully sloping contour
of the Male-Fern. The pinnæ
grew quite to the bottom of the stalk, each becoming smaller than
the last by almost imperceptible gradations. The seed-masses, with their
kidney-shaped covers, were arranged in a faultless line around the edge
of the leaf, while, in the more advanced fronds, the extreme margin of
the leaflet was turned back over the seed-masses. A line down the centre
of the rose-tinted stalk gave a peculiar delicacy to its appearance, and
sweet odour hung about the plant, which ever must remind those who have
once inhaled it of hills and moors. Every point of the description
answered to that of the Heath Shield-Fern, (Lastræa
fig. 2.) And on the bare ground at its foot,
contrasting strikingly with its delicate green, grew a plot of the
scarlet cup-moss, its brilliant little knobs of red fruit crowning the
glaucous, hornlike branches of the small plant.
It was a little landscape of rare beauty; and I tried
to grasp it more entirely, and to love it better, than the wide prospect
of hill, and wood, and valley beyond it. Truly, it is a weakness of our
mortal sense to imagine a thing trifling because it is small. The vast
peat-mosses, which furnish fuel for thousands, are formed of an
insignificant plant; whilst mountain-ranges are composed of the
skeletons of animals too small to be perceived by the naked eye. A tiny
flower or insect testifies the wondrous wisdom of the Creator, and
raises the heart of the earnest-minded Christian observer in adoring
gratitude to Him.
"A thing is great or little only to a mortal's
thinking, But, abstracted from the body, all things are alike
That day had brought in a rich harvest to my
collection—six different species of the third group of Aspidiaceæ!
Truly, the Shield-Ferns must ever henceforward be as old friends to me.
The Spreading Shield-Fern was nearly three feet high, the Male-Fern at
least two, while the Prickly-toothed and Heath-Ferns were but little
short of that height. The Rigid Shield-Fern was not quite one foot in
stature; but the portion of the Marsh-Fern in my book gave indication of
its vying with the Male-Fern in height.
"I like collecting with you," Esther said, "for you
don't go on to another group till you are quite clear about the present
one. What will be the next ferns that you seek?"
"I shall tell you when time and opportunity for
seeking them comes."