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‘Fernatical Fun’ at Wisley

Posted by sheiladearing on 12 May 2011 at 03:16 PM

It was 5 o’clock am on a cold February morning when I set off on my long journey to RHS Wisley in Surrey.

I was very excited as I was going to meet Graham Ackers, the committee secretary of the British Pteridological Society.

On arrival I made my way to the Herbarium where thousands of dried plant specimens are kept in storage…including ferns…

Through the winding corridors I found Graham in an office hidden away with lots of books and specimens waiting for me!

We spent time looking through specimens of the genus Dryopteris (Male fern). This fern has many species and sub-species and I was keen to learn more about how to identify this fern in the wild.

Identification can be quite tricky especially if the exact same fern is growing in different habitats. A cool broadleaved woodland would produce a large, lush rich-green fern whereas a sunny roadside would produce a smaller, yellow/green less lush fern. Also, the plant will vary in size according to age.

This is me with Graham looking through herbarium specimens

I took the opportunity to ask Graham the following questions:

What was it that got you interested in ferns and when?
“It was about 1990, I just woke up one morning and thought “I like ferns!”
 How long have you worked as a volunteer at Wisley herbarium and why?
“I started as a volunteer at the Wisley herbarium in May 2005 because the British Pteridological Society had donated its herbarium to the RHS, and the then Keeper of the herbarium Diana Miller requested someone with ferny knowledge to do the accessioning, and I happened to be the nearest active BPS member to Wisley. This exercise was written up in the 2008 edition of the Pteridologist.”

Do you have any thoughts you can share about ferns that might inspire people?
“I think they have a quiet beauty and architectural form that contrasts noticeably with more gaudy floriferous plants. To me their fascination lies in their diversity, distribution, habitat preferences and life cycle, and they are fascinating to grow”

 Anything else you would like to mention?
I would love Wisley to grow a more varied selection of ferns. The garden is currently very conservative in this respect!
Further information about ferns can be sourced through the Pteridological society…

 ( Website: )

By Penny King


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