The climbing fern doesn't look much like a fern. Like many vines, it climbs by twining around other plants. The fronds are very long -- up to 15 feet -- and only around five inches wide. Most of the frond bears hand-shaped sterile subleaflets. At the top of the find are fertile leaflets, which are finely divided. Climbing fern is rare in Connecticut; it is listed as a species of special concern. The fronds were once gathered for Christmas decorations, and the threat to the populations led Connecticut to pass a law banning picking -- the first plant-protection law in the United States.
- Family: climbing fern (Lygodiaceae)
- Habitat: moist, open woods or thickets (acidic soil)
- Height: vine-like, to 8 feet
- Location of spores: at top of stalk
- Petiole (leaf stalk): fragile, vine-like
- Growth pattern: random
- Persistence: evergreen
- Origin: native
These hand-shaped leaflets are sterile (they produce no spores). Photographed in Burlington County, New Jersey in late June.
The fertile leaflets grow at the top of the frond. They are much more finely divided than the sterile leaflets.