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Hart's-tongue Fern

Asplenium scolopendrium

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Plant Profile

Aspleniaceae (Spleenwort)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
45 centimetres tall
Ditches, gardens, hedgerows, walls, woodland.
No flowers. Ferns reproduce by spores.
Spores appear in conspicuous stripes on the underside of fronds.
Evergreen. Grows in clumps. Long, glossy tongue-shaped fronds with pointed tips. The 'scolopendrium' part of the botanical name means 'centipede' and comes from the markings on the underside of the fronds which are said to resemble centipede legs. The markings on the undersides of the fronds are the spores.
Other Names:
Hart's-tongue, Scaly Spleenwort, Spleenwort.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Asplenium scolopendrium, also known as hart's-tongue fern or scaly spleenwort, is a perennial fern in the family Aspleniaceae. It is native to Europe, Asia, and North America, and is commonly found in woods, hedgerows and along rocky cliffs.

The plant has evergreen fronds that are typically 30-60 cm long and 5-15 cm wide, and are deeply lobed, glossy, and dark green. The fronds are arranged in a rosette and have an elongated, triangular shape that gives the plant its common name "hart's tongue" as it is said to resemble the tongue of a deer. The fertile fronds are found separately and are erect, typically with an elongated shape and are covered with brown sori (spore-producing structures) on the underside.

A. scolopendrium is commonly used as an ornamental plant in gardens and landscapes. It is well suited to shady sites and tolerates a wide range of soil types. It can be propagated by spores or by dividing the rhizomes.

This fern species is a low-maintenance plant and not known to be invasive. However, in some areas it can spread aggressively, which can be controlled by regular monitoring, removing any new growth, and also by using rhizome barriers.

Asplenium scolopendrium has been traditionally used for medicinal purposes, mainly in the form of an extract from the fern's rhizome and fronds. However, more research is needed to confirm its medicinal effects and determine appropriate dosage and usage.


Hart's-tongue Fern, also known as Asplenium scolopendrium, is a unique and visually striking fern species. This fern is native to Europe and can be found growing in a variety of habitats such as rocky crevices, woodland floors, and shaded cliffs.

One of the most distinctive features of the Hart's-tongue Fern is its elongated, strap-like fronds which can grow up to 60 cm in length. The fronds have a glossy texture and are a deep green color, with a slightly wavy edge. They grow in a basal rosette pattern, emerging from a central crown which is covered in brown scales.

The Hart's-tongue Fern is a perennial plant, which means that it lives for several years, and in the right conditions, it can grow quite large. It prefers moist, shady conditions, but it can tolerate some exposure to sunlight. The fern is able to grow in a wide range of soils, from well-draining sandy soil to heavy clay.

One of the reasons that Hart's-tongue Fern is such a popular plant among gardeners is that it is relatively low-maintenance. Once established, it can grow vigorously without much care. However, it does require some attention to thrive. It is important to ensure that the soil is kept moist but not waterlogged, and the fern should be watered regularly during dry spells. It is also important to ensure that the fern is not exposed to too much direct sunlight, as this can cause the fronds to scorch.

The Hart's-tongue Fern is not just a beautiful plant, but it also has a long history of medicinal use. In traditional herbal medicine, the fern has been used to treat a variety of ailments, such as coughs, sore throats, and digestive issues. However, it is important to note that the fern can be toxic if consumed in large quantities, and it is not recommended to use it for self-treatment.

One of the interesting characteristics of the Hart's-tongue Fern is its ability to reproduce both sexually and asexually. The fern produces spores on the underside of its fronds which can be used for sexual reproduction. These spores are often spread by the wind and can germinate to form new ferns.

In addition to sexual reproduction, the Hart's-tongue Fern is also able to reproduce asexually through a process called vegetative propagation. This means that new ferns can be formed from the parent plant by taking cuttings and rooting them in soil. This is a useful method for propagating the fern in a controlled environment, such as a garden or greenhouse.

Another interesting feature of the Hart's-tongue Fern is its importance as a food source for certain insects and animals. The fronds of the fern provide a valuable habitat for a range of invertebrates, including snails and slugs, which can be important for the ecosystem. The fern also provides food for several species of moth larvae, which feed on the fronds and can be a valuable food source for other animals higher up the food chain.

The Hart's-tongue Fern has also been used in various cultures and folklore throughout history. In some cultures, it was believed that the fern had protective properties and was used as a charm against evil spirits. In the UK, it was once believed that carrying a piece of the fern would grant the bearer invisibility, or that it could be used to break a spell cast by a witch.

The fern has also been used in art and literature. In traditional Japanese art, the Hart's-tongue Fern is a common subject in paintings and prints. In English literature, the fern is mentioned in William Shakespeare's play, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," where it is referenced as a magical plant.

In addition to its cultural significance, the Hart's-tongue Fern is also important for its role in modern-day horticulture. The fern is a popular ornamental plant, and there are many cultivars available with varying frond shapes and colors. The fern's hardiness and low-maintenance requirements make it an attractive choice for gardens, and it is often used as a groundcover or in rock gardens.

One of the interesting features of the Hart's-tongue Fern is its ability to adapt to different environments. In the wild, it is found in a variety of habitats, from rocky crevices to woodland floors. It can also grow in both acidic and alkaline soils, making it a versatile plant.

The fern is also a valuable addition to any garden or natural space due to its ability to improve soil quality. The fern's deep roots help to aerate the soil, improving drainage and allowing water to penetrate more deeply. The roots also help to break up compacted soil, making it easier for other plants to grow.

Another interesting fact about the Hart's-tongue Fern is that it has a long lifespan. It can live for several years and can grow quite large if given the right conditions. In fact, some specimens in the wild have been known to grow up to 100 years old!

One interesting and unusual feature of the Hart's-tongue Fern is the way its fronds emerge from the rhizome in a single plane. This gives the fern a striking, flat appearance that is quite different from many other ferns that have more three-dimensional fronds. This unique growth pattern can make the fern an interesting addition to a garden or natural space, especially when planted alongside other ferns or plants with different growth habits.

The Hart's-tongue Fern is also a popular subject for botanical artists, who appreciate its unique form and distinctive texture. The fern's long, narrow fronds and intricate venation make it an interesting subject to draw or paint, and its hardiness and long lifespan make it a popular choice for botanical artists looking for a subject that will be around for years to come.

In addition to its aesthetic and ecological value, the Hart's-tongue Fern also has some practical uses. For example, in traditional medicine, the fern has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including kidney stones and digestive problems. It was also used as a diuretic and to promote wound healing. While the fern is not widely used in modern medicine, it is still used in some herbal remedies.

Overall, the Hart's-tongue Fern is a fascinating and versatile plant with a wide range of interesting features and uses. Whether you are interested in its unique appearance, its cultural significance, or its practical applications, the fern is a plant that is sure to inspire wonder and capture your attention.


Hart's-tongue Fern filmed in Eaves Wood, Silverdale, Lancashire on the 18th July 2022.


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