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Forked Spleenwort

Asplenium septentrionale

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Plant Profile

Aspleniaceae (Spleenwort)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
30 centimetres tall
Cliffs, gardens, rocky places, seaside, walls.
Ferns are flowerless. They produce spores instead in order to reproduce.
Spores ripen in August and September.
This fern has distinctive fronds (leaves). They are forked twice and toothed at their tips. Their long stalks are dark at their bases. The fronds are dark green and they are present all year round.
Other Names:
Northern Spleenwort.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Asplenium septentrionale, also known as the Northern spleenwort, is a fern species that is native to North America, Europe, and Asia. It typically grows in rocky crevices, on cliffs, and in talus slopes, in shady, moist and humid areas. It is a small, evergreen fern that forms rosettes of triangular, dark green fronds. The fronds are typically between 4 and 8 inches long and have a glossy, leathery texture. It is hardy, easy-to-grow and suitable for rock gardens, coastal gardens and indoor cultivation as well. This fern is also drought tolerant and can survive with low maintenance.


Forked spleenwort, also known as Asplenium septentrionale, is a species of fern that is native to Europe and parts of Asia. This fascinating plant is known for its unique fronds, which have a distinctive forked shape. In this blog post, we'll explore the characteristics of forked spleenwort, its habitat, and its role in ecology and culture.

Characteristics of Forked Spleenwort

Forked spleenwort is a small fern that typically grows to about 20-30 cm in height. It has a short, creeping rhizome that produces a cluster of fronds. The fronds of forked spleenwort are relatively narrow, and they have a distinctive forked shape, with two or three lobes at the top of the blade. The fronds are typically a deep green color, and they have a shiny, waxy texture.

One of the most interesting characteristics of forked spleenwort is its ability to reproduce asexually. Like many ferns, forked spleenwort can produce small plantlets at the tips of its fronds. These plantlets can eventually detach from the parent plant and grow into new ferns.

Habitat of Forked Spleenwort

Forked spleenwort is found in a variety of habitats, including rocky outcrops, limestone cliffs, and crevices in walls. It prefers well-drained, alkaline soils and can tolerate both sun and shade. In the wild, forked spleenwort is often found growing alongside other ferns, such as maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) and wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria).

Ecology of Forked Spleenwort

Forked spleenwort plays an important role in its ecosystem. Like other ferns, it provides a habitat and food source for a variety of insects, including moths, butterflies, and beetles. It also helps to stabilize soils and prevent erosion in rocky habitats.

Cultural Significance of Forked Spleenwort

In some cultures, forked spleenwort has been used for medicinal purposes. For example, in traditional Chinese medicine, it has been used to treat respiratory and digestive disorders. In Europe, the plant has been used as a diuretic and to treat kidney stones.

Forked spleenwort also has a place in folklore and mythology. In some traditions, it was believed that the plant had the power to ward off evil spirits or bring good luck. In other cultures, forked spleenwort was associated with love and fertility.

Forked spleenwort is a fascinating and unique fern that plays an important role in its ecosystem and has cultural significance in various traditions. With its distinctive forked fronds and ability to reproduce asexually, it is a plant that is sure to capture the attention of any nature enthusiast.

More Information

There are several interesting facts about forked spleenwort that make it a notable fern. Here are a few more:

  • The species name, septentrionale, means "northern" in Latin, reflecting the plant's distribution in northern parts of Europe and Asia.
  • Forked spleenwort is a relatively hardy plant and can survive in harsh environments. It is one of the few fern species that can tolerate exposure to salt spray in coastal areas.
  • The plant's fronds are pinnate, which means that they are divided into smaller leaflets. In the case of forked spleenwort, each frond typically has between 15 and 20 pairs of leaflets.
  • Forked spleenwort is a popular plant among fern enthusiasts, who appreciate its unique shape and relative ease of care. It is often grown as a houseplant, especially in areas where it is not native.
  • In addition to its traditional medicinal uses, forked spleenwort has also been studied for its potential as a source of new drugs. Some research has suggested that the plant may contain compounds with anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Forked spleenwort is closely related to other fern species, including the widespread maidenhair fern (Adiantum), which has a similar frond shape.

Overall, forked spleenwort is a fascinating plant with a long history of cultural significance and practical uses. Whether you encounter it in the wild or in a garden, this unique fern is sure to capture your imagination.

And some more facts...

Here are a few more interesting facts about forked spleenwort:

  • The plant is sometimes referred to by its common name "forked spleenwort," but it also has other common names, including "northern spleenwort," "forked fern," and "fork fern."
  • In addition to its use in traditional medicine, forked spleenwort has also been used for dyeing textiles. The plant contains tannins, which can be used to create a yellow or green dye.
  • Forked spleenwort is often found growing in limestone habitats, where it can tolerate high levels of calcium in the soil. This is one reason why it is often found growing alongside other lime-loving plants, such as rockrose (Helianthemum) and bird's-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).
  • The plant is considered to be relatively long-lived for a fern. Some specimens have been known to survive for more than 20 years in the wild.
  • In addition to its ecological and cultural significance, forked spleenwort is also an important plant for scientists studying the evolution of ferns. The plant belongs to the family Aspleniaceae, which is one of the largest and most diverse fern families, and is often used as a model organism for genetic and phylogenetic research.

Overall, forked spleenwort is a plant with a rich and varied history. Whether you are interested in its medicinal properties, its cultural significance, or its ecological role, this unique fern is sure to captivate your imagination.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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