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Good Words 1860
A Summer's Study of Ferns

Chapter VII.

"Auld Botany Ben was wont to jog
Thro' rotten slough and quagmire bog,
O'er brimful dykes and marshes dank,
Where Jack o' Lanterns play and prank,
To seek a cryptogameous store
Of moss and carex and fungus hoare,
Of ferns and brakes and such-like sights
As tempt out scientific wights
On winter's day; but most his joy
Was finding what's called Osman's Roy."

The district of the Land's End! What a magic charm these words used to have for me in my childhood ! And now I was within a few miles of this wondrous locality! Of course my Penzance friends failed not to take me to the rocky promontory. I gazed on the granite rocks which defy the fury of the waves of the Atlantic, which roar terribly. I saw the strange caverns underneath, and the noble mass surmounted by the moving rock. The Lizard lights in the distance, and the glow-worms in the hedges, cheered our late return. Of pleasure I had had a goodly share; but, alas, I had brought no fern to my collection. I was advised to search Marazion Marsh: ''That is an excellent field for wild-flowers," said my friends, "and probably for ferns also." So an early day was appointed, and we traversed the sands, crossed the railroad, entered a broad highway which was raised above the surrounding land, and, passing over a bridge built across a slow stream or standing water, we turned quickly to the left, and began to examine a large tract of waste land. Of this some was bog, some sandy ground, and some quite under water. That season had been a late one, and the delicate pink bells of the bog Anagallis still quivered in the breeze, while a few spikes of the musk Bartsia yet remained. But what was that stately plant growing under the shade of the brushwood at some distance from us, with its somewhat glaucous foliage and tall compound spire of seed? In my eagerness I forgot the swampy nature of the ground, and springing forward found myself standing by the plant in question ankle-deep in water. But I heeded not any such trifling personal inconvenience, for I had found the object of my ambition, the Royal Fern, the Osmunda or Osmund's Roy! (Osmunda Regalis, fig. 1 and a. And it was not only one plant, hundreds were growing there, under remnants of old wall and scraps of old hedge. There, on the site of the old Jewish town, behind what may have been the carefully planted fences of those ancient inhabitants of the Mara Zion, those early miners and traders in Cornish tin, flourishes now the noble head of the English representatives of the still more ancient family, the family which flourished when rocks only a degree less ancient than those containing the ore, were yet in course of formation.

The Fronds grew to a noble height, the fruitful ones more erect than those unburdened with spikes. The fruit was contained in round cases, like grains, growing in profuse abundance upon the many stalks of the branched spike at the top of the frond. I gathered several, some for myself, and some for Esther, and returned home proud of my new acquisition. I lost no time in writing of my success to my dear young cousin, and I begged her both to search and inquire unremittingly in her own neighbourhood, and ascertain the truth of the assurance of an old herbalist there, that both the Moonwort and Adder's-tongue were to be found in the pastures of Swaledale. In the meanwhile we made a delightful excursion along the cliffs to the right of Penzance, where I had the delight of finding the Sea Spleenwort. The roof of a cave was fairly tapestried with the broad and verdant fronds of this beautiful fern, and in one or two sheltered places I found small plants of the lance-shaped Spleenwort (Aspkenium marinum and lanceola-tum). Esther made every effort to comply with my request. She went to the clergyman's old housekeeper, a woman skilled in herbs and simples, from whom I had heard that the two ferns in question grew in the Dale. Betty begged Miss Esther to accompany her, and leading the way into the high pastures opposite her father's house, she showed her the Adder's-tongue in abundance, telling her that she gathered a great deal every year to make into ointment for bruises and swelling. "Don't take none o' them pieces, Miss Esther, to send to your friend," she said, "for it dies down at this time o' year, and them pieces is withered. I have some nice bits at home that I have kept for bookmarkers, and I will give you one o' them." In an adjoining field she pointed out the Moonwort growing amongst the low herbage, and so assimilating with it, that an unin-structed observer would only have supposed it a plant in seed. Betty said that this also made a good ointment, and that superstitious folks thought that it would open looks and bring the shoes off horses, but for her part she believed no such witchery. Esther procured and sent me good specimens of this. Here I was indeed fortunate. The Moonwort with its double row of crescent leaflets and branched spike of grain-like seed-vessels lay in my hand, a near though very humble relative of the noble Royal-fern (Batrychi-um Lunaria, fig. 2 and b). The Adder's-tongue seemed at first sight like a miniature of the Field - Arum, the tongue of seeds rising from the broad undivided frond as from a sheath. The seeds are arranged in a double row along the simple spike (Ophio-glossum Vulgatum, fig. 3 and c.) Before concluding my series of visits I was fortunate enough to receive the gift of a specimen of the pretty little Jersey Adder's-tongue (O. Lusitani-cum, fig. 4). It differs from our own Adder's-tongue in being smaller, in having narrower leaves, and there being two or more leaves to each plant.

No pen can describe the keen pleasure with which I regarded my collection of ferns. There lay the four Polypodys with their round uncovered masses of seed-cases, the Scaly Spleenwort with its scale spread back and cover rent or absent, and the Jersey fern with its uncovered seed-masses, forming together the coverless order or Polypodiaceae.

Next were placed the Woodsia with its round fringed cover; the prickly four-ferns with their round covers fastened in the centre; the six-shield

ferns with their kidney-shaped covers fastened in the cut side; the three-bladder ferns with their thin bag-like cover; the nine-Spleenworts, with their line-like masses and covering opening towards the middle vein; the Lady fern with its roundish covering attached by the side; the Hart's-tongue with its long seed masses and membranaceous covers; the Brake with its seeds on the margin in a line; the Parsley-fern with its circular masses on the margin; the Hard-fern with its seed in two covered lines, and the Maiden-hair with its crescent or roundish masses and thin covering;—all these forming the covered order or Aspidiaceae.

The small order of the urn-bearing ferns or Hymenophyllaceae were next, containing only the two Filmy ferns, and the Bristle-fern. The Royal-fern stood next with an order to itself, the fruit being naked. We termed this the Spike order or Os-mundacece. Finally came the Moonwort and Adder's - tongue, also spiked, and only differing from the Os-mundaceae in the seed case. These represented the Ophioglos-sacece.

Such was my success. Did I owe it to myself? To my own application and persevering search? These were themselves the gift of God, elements bestowedup-on me with which to overcome difficulty. But these were not my chief aids. Jacob said, in that melancholy scene when he won his father's blessing by deceit, "I found the venison, because the Lord thy God brought it to me." And thus when we take up the study of any part of the works or dealings of God, and seek therein the teaching of Him who "giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not,"He makes the complicated seem simple, the confused clear; He quickens the vision, both intellectual and physical; He directs the way of our steps and the tenor of our thoughts, and the samples of His marvellous creation come into our hands, because the Lord our God beings them to us.

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