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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - April 03, 2005

From: Roanoke, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Ferns
Title: Smarty Plants on thousand year old interrupted fern
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

We recently built a new home in the mountains of western Virginia. I am told by the local Botanist that there is a patch of "thousand year old interrupted fern" that runs through, among other places, my yard. Is it possible for fern to actually be 1000 years old? I was under the impression that this fern is perennial but it reseeds itself by spores. Of course, I am not a botanist so this is why I am writing to you. I understand that this is a very common fern and am nervous that this guy is going to try to stop me from otherwise keeping my property attractive and snake free for my family to enjoy. I don't want to destroy the environment and I surely don't want to kill any 1000 year old plants. What are your thoughts?

ANSWER:

Interrupted fern (Osmunda claytonia) is a large, common widespread fern. Its distribution includes all the states east of the Mississippi River except Louisiana and Florida. it is very doubtful if any of your individual ferns is a thousand years old. However, the colony of ferns on your property may have been in existence for 1000 years or more. Since the ferns themselves are not endangered and you have no intention of destroying the entire colony, it seems reasonable for you to be able to trim and control them to make them attractive and your surroundings safe for you and your family. For purposes of neighborhood harmony, however, you might want to learn if your neighbors are concerned about your cutting down the ferns and to reassure them that you have no intention of destroying this ancient colony of ferns.
 

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