Ferns and horsetails produce spores rather than seeds and have a great scientific name – the Pteridophytes.

They have a vascular system to allow transportation of sugars around the plant in tube like structures called Phloem (for sugar solutions) and Xylem (for water).  A vascular system to distribute nutrients throughout the plant allows them to grow tall. 

Fern: Cyathea mexicana. Unfurling frond.

Some ferns grow up to 80 feet tall, and some extinct horsetails were tree-sized.  Being seedless means spores are produced and combine to produce a small gametophyte.  The fern you actually see is a diploid sporophyte and the plant undergoes a fascinating reproductive cycle called the ‘alternation of generations’.  Horestails are in the same group. 

These plants consists of long, hollow, narrow stem segments with minisule, non-photosynthetic leaves. Both are  often classed as ancient organisms as they existed at the same time as the dinosaurs!  Being mostly shade tolerant they are an important part of the woodland ground flora and also occur in some fascinating habitats such as the clints and grykes on Malhams limestone pavement and the screes lopes of Snowdonia.  Botanical specialties are not to be missed. 

Fern Identification Courses

Identification Resources:

The AIDGAP Fern Guide covers the 59 species of fern, 6 clubmosses, 3 quillworts and 8 horsetails found in the British Isles.
From hart’s tongue to hard fern, from oak fern to wall-rue, the FSC Fern Identification Chart features the commonest 38 species of ferns found in Britain and Ireland.