Overview

Comprehensive Description

Comments

Fossil imprints have been found that closely resemble the Sensitive Fern; these imprints date back to the time of the dinosaurs. Thus, the Sensitive Fern appears to have changed very little during millions of years. The Sensitive Fern is the only member of its genus; its nearest living relative (in Illinois, anyway) is Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich Fern), which looks very different. The Sensitive Fern can be readily distinguished from other ferns by its peculiar fertile leaves – each fertile leaf resembles an elongated cluster of dark brown beads on a stalk. These fertile leaves are very persistent and can be observed near the infertile leaves throughout most of the year. The common name of this species refers to the deciduous nature of the infertile leaves and their sensitivity to frost; they do not coil back in response to being touched.
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Description

This native perennial fern consists of a few loose leaves that develop directly from the rootstock. The infertile leaves are 2-3' tall and erect or ascending, while the fertile leaves are 1–1½' tall and erect. The infertile leaves are light to medium green and ovate-lanceolate in overall shape; they are deeply pinnatifid for the most part, although their tips are more shallowly pinnatifid, while their bases are more pinnate. The central stalk (or rachis) of each infertile leaf is winged. The spreading narrow lobes of the infertile leaves are generously spaced from each other; their margins are undulate or shallowly pinnatifid and roll downward. Each infertile leaf has about 8 opposite pairs of these lobes. The basal stalks (or petioles) of the infertile leaves are about the same length or a little shorter than their blades; these stalks are dull yellow to reddish brown and glabrous or slightly chaffy. The infertile leaves persist all summer, but die down during the fall in response to frosts. The fertile leaves have a very different appearance. Their leaflets form hard bead-like structures that enclose the sporangia and their spores. In overall shape, each fertile leaf is ellipsoid-oblongoid, forming an elongated panicle of bead-like leaflets on a long stout stalk. The fertile leaves become dark brown and persist through the winter. Eventually, their leaflets split open to release the spores. The root system consisting of a stout smooth rhizome with spreading fibrous roots. This rhizome occasionally branches. Occasionally, small vegetative colonies of plants are formed from the branching rhizomes.
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Distribution

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Sensitive Fern is fairly common and can be found in most areas of Illinois (see Distribution Map). It is native to eastern North America and East Asia. Habitats include moist to mesic deciduous woodlands, sandy savannas, bluffs, soggy thickets, forested bogs, swamps, moist meadows, moist sand prairies, edges of marshes, shady seeps and springs, and low shaded areas along ponds. The Sensitive Fern is usually found in natural areas of moderate to high quality.
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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Onoclea sensibilis L.:
Japan (Asia)
Mongolia (Asia)
Russian Federation (Asia)
China (Asia)
South Korea (Asia)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
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St. Pierre and Miquelon; Man., N.B., Nfld., N.S., Ont., P.E.I., Que.; Ala., Ark., Colo., Conn., Del., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kans., Ky., La., Maine, Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., Nebr., N.H., N.J., N.Y., N.C., N.Dak., Ohio, Okla., Pa., R.I., S.C., S.Dak., Tenn., Tex., Vt., Va., W.Va., Wis., Wyo.; e Asia.
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Global Range: Labrador to Manitoba, south to Florida, Texas, South Dakota, and Colorado. Recently discovered in Wyoming (1999) and currently known only from the Black Hills in Crook County.

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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Leaves irregularly spaced along stem. Sterile leaves yellow-green, deltate, coarsely divided, 13--34 × 15--30 cm. Petiole of sterile leaf black, 22--58 cm, flattened at base; rachis winged, becoming broader toward apex. Pinnae 5--11 per side, lanceolate; proximal pinnae 9--18 cm, margins entire, sinuate, or laciniate. Sporophyll leaves green, becoming black at maturity, oblong, 7--17 × 1--4 cm. Petiole 19--40 cm, base sparsely scaly. Pinnae linear, 5--11 per side, 2.5--5 cm; ultimate segments revolute to form beadlike structures, 2--4 mm diam. Sori borne on free veins, enclosed by ultimate segments. 2 n = 74.
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Diagnostic Description

Synonym

Onoclea sensibilis forma hemiphyllodes (Kiss & Kümmerle) Gilbert; O. sensibilis forma obtusilobata (Schkuhr) Gilbert; O. sensibilis var. obtusilobata (Schkuhr) Torrey
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Ecology

Habitat

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Sensitive Fern is fairly common and can be found in most areas of Illinois (see Distribution Map). It is native to eastern North America and East Asia. Habitats include moist to mesic deciduous woodlands, sandy savannas, bluffs, soggy thickets, forested bogs, swamps, moist meadows, moist sand prairies, edges of marshes, shady seeps and springs, and low shaded areas along ponds. The Sensitive Fern is usually found in natural areas of moderate to high quality.
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Sporophylls produced May--October. Open swamps, thickets, marshes, or low woods, in sunny or shaded locations, often forming thick stands; 0--1500m.
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Associations

Faunal Associations

The foliage is toxic to horses if it is eaten in quantity. The value of this fern to wildlife is low, although deer may eat the fronds to a limited extent.
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Foodplant / open feeder
larva of Strombocerus delicatulus grazes on frond of Onoclea sensibilis
Other: major host/prey

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Onoclea sensibilis

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Onoclea sensibilis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 7
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Cultivation

The preference is partial sun to light shade, moist conditions, and soil that is loamy, silty, or sandy. Full sun is tolerated if the ground is consistently moist.
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Wikipedia

Onoclea sensibilis

Onoclea sensibilis, the sensitive fern, also known as the bead fern, is a coarse-textured, medium to large-sized deciduous perennial fern. The name comes from the observation by early American settlers that it was very sensitive to frost, the fronds dying quickly when first touched by it. It is sometimes treated as the only species in Onoclea,[1] but some authors do not consider the genus monotypic.[2]

Description[edit]

"Beads" of the Bead Fern Onoclea sensibilis

The sterile and fertile fronds of Onoclea sensibilis are quite different from other ferns. The bright, yellow-green sterile fronds are deeply pinnatifid and are typically borne at intervals along a creeping rhizome. They grow to about 90 centimetres (35 in) long, with a long, smooth stipe.

The fertile fronds are much smaller, non-green, and have very narrow pinnae. The sori are clustered like beads or grapes on the upright fertile fronds, hence the common name Bead fern. The fiddleheads are a pale red color.

Habitat[edit]

O. sensibilis dwells in a variety of wet swamp and wood habitats: wet meadows, thickets and bogs, as well as stream and riverbanks and roadside ditches. It ranges from Newfoundland south to Florida and west to Texas, the Rocky Mountains, North Dakota and Manitoba.[3] It is also native to East Asia, and has become naturalized in western Europe.

It grows best in a shaded or partially shaded area in a moist soil. The plant can tolerate dryer conditions in shade, and will tolerate wet soils and so occurs in soggy ground or at the very edge of water in shade or sun. Sensitive ferns spread to form colonies and are often the first species to inhabit disturbed areas. They can become weedy if not sited properly.

O. sensibilis is a facultative wetland indicator, toxic, and a host to the pathogen which causes bacterial wilt in rice.

Cultivation[edit]

Gametophyte of Onoclea sensibilis (the flat thallus at the bottom of the picture) with a descendant sporophyte beginning to grow from it (the small frond at the top of the picture).

Onoclea sensibilis is cultivated as an ornamental plant, in traditional and native plant gardens, and in natural landscaping and habitat restoration projects.[4] It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[5]

In shade it can tolerate drier conditions, but in full sun it requires wet soil. Winter survival will be enhanced if the dried fronds are left on the plant through the winter.

Notes[edit]

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Notes

Comments

Onoclea sensibilis occurs in eastern North America, principally east of the Great Plains. Leaf forms with pinnae intermediate between those of sporophylls and sterile leaves, or with pinnae fertile only on one side of the blade, can occur on plants that also bear normal leaf forms. These do not merit taxonomic recognition (J. M. Beitel et al. 1981). 

 Onoclea sensibilis resembles Woodwardia areolata (Linnaeus) T. Moore, with which it often grows. Onoclea has entire pinna margins and nearly opposite basal pinnae whereas Woodwardia areolata has serrate pinna margins and alternate pinnae.

As in Matteuccia struthiopteris (Linnaeus) Todaro, sporophylls of Onoclea sensibilis persist through the winter and release the green spores in spring before the sterile leaves expand (R. W. Hill and W. H. Wagner Jr. 1974; L. G. Labouriau 1958; R. M. Lloyd and E. J. Klekowski Jr. 1970). Onoclea sensibilis is occasionally cultivated; it has a tendency to spread rapidly and become weedy. The name "sensitive fern" refers to the susceptibility of the leaves to even a light frost.

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