Plant Guide > Ferns > Common Adders Tongue Fern

Common Adders Tongue Fern



The Common Adder's Tongue Fern is a curious species of fern, reminding one, in its mode of growth, more of the little plant known by the name of "Cuckoo Pint," or " Lords and Ladies" - Arum maculatum of botanists - than of a true fern. It is a small stemless plant, from three to nine inches high. The barren frond, which appears like a single green leaf, smooth, ovate, obtuse, with veins forming a distinct network, seems to inclose the stem or rachis of the fertile frond, which is an upright spike tapering towards the summit, and consisting of two lines of crowded spore-cases buried in the substance of the spike. When ripe, this spike opens and the pollen is discharged, so that the spike eventually resembles a double row of round empty cavities.

This fern should be sought for not later than the middle of June, at which time it is fully developed. It is generally distributed all over England, and is very abundant where it does exist; so much so as to be injurious to other crops in many places. It is less frequent in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, but is found on the continent of Europe, Africa, and North America.

The virtues of this plant have been highly extolled by the older writers, and even now large quantities of it are gathered in the villages of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey, and prepared according to the old prescriptions. A preparation, called "Green Oil of Charity," is made from it, and applied to wounds; and Gerarde says: "The leaves of Adder's Tongue stamped in a stone mortar and boiled in oyle of olive, and then strained, will yield a most excellent green oyle, or rather a balsam, for greene wounds, comparable to oyle of St. John's Wort, if it doth not far surpasse it." We incline to think that the only efficacious part of this ointment was the oil of which it was composed. Dr. Lindley, in his 'Vegetable Kingdom,' says: "The herbage of these plants is mucilaginous; whence the species have been employed in broths. Ophio-glossum vulgatum has been used in medicine as a vulnerary, but it seems to possess that quality as little as the magical virtues once ascribed to it."

There is no great difficulty in cultivating this fern, if it be removed carefully without disturbing the roots, which should be dug up in a good quantity of their native soil, and then planted in loamy ground, and kept well watered and cool.