|"Gathering ferns," by Helen Allingham, Illustrated|
London News, July 1871
What was it?
by Charles Sillem Lidderdale, 1877
The Victorians decorated their china, glass planters, upholstery, wallpaper...almost everything...with fern designs. Fern houses were displayed in the most stylish parlors of the day, and young ladies sketched delicate portraits of fern fronds in their sketchbooks.
People went to great lengths to obtain their plants, hiking into wild places and hanging off cliffs if need be. One fern gatherer named William Williams lost his life that way in Wales; his body was found at the foot of a cliff where he had been trying to obtain some choice specimens.
I like seeing ferns in the woods; the lend an almost tropical air to almost any forest. I like to pick them for bouquets too, and once pressed and framed a few to hang on my walls, but that's the extent of my fern "mania."
The fern is the subject of some interesting folklore. Although ferns do not flower, there is a superstition in some parts of the world that the plants will flower, very briefly, on the eve of the summer solstice. If one is lucky enough to find a plant in flower, that person will gain extraordinary powers--being able to understand the language of the animals, for example, or to have great luck or wealth in their life. One story says that prior to the birth of Christ, all ferns flowered. On the night of his birth, all the flowers in the world burst into bloom except the fern, and as punishment the ability to produce flowers was taken away from the ferns.
In Staffordshire, England, it was once believed that burning ferns would cause rain, and the practice was employed whenever conditions were too dry in many other places in England and Scotland.
A Cornwall belief held that eating the first fern to emerge in spring would prevent toothache all year long. "A person who can wear fern seed about him will become invisible," and "fern found growing on a tree will cure stomach ache," according to the Encyclopedia of Superstitions. But don't wear ferns, because if you do you will lose your way and be followed by snakes.
Pterdomania. Wikipedia article.
Atlas Obscura. How the Victorian Fern-Hunting Craze Led To Adventure, Romance, and Crime
Finding a fern flower. Wikipedia article.
Fern Folklore. Comstock's West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia, vol 7, pp 1550-1551. Richwood WV 1976.
Historical medical use of ferns. Papers Past.
Radford, Mona and Edwin. Encyclopedia of Superstitions. Burning ferns to bring rain, pp
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