Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina)

Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) 

Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) is a shrub in the Bayberry Family (Myricaceae) and order Myricales. It is very common around French Hill Pond. The photographs on this page were taken to the west of the pond. This plant is also listed by some authorities as the genus/species, Myrica peregrina.  The order and family name comes from the Latin for "tamarisk", a family of Old World desert shrubs. The species name, peregrina, is Latin for "foreign woman." The other genus name, Myrica, also comes from the Latin for "tamarisk." This shrub can grow to three feet (90 centimeters) tall. The tiny, white flowers are in catkins, usually shorter than one inch (2.5 centimeters), clustered at the ends of branches as shown left of center in the photograph below. The stamens and pistils are in separate catkins. Male and female flowers may coexist on the same plant or a plant may have only female or only male flowers. This plant flowers from April to May.

Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) Detail

The leaves are from two to five inches ( five to 13 centimeters) long, somewhat lance-shaped, deeply cut into over 20 lobes and tapered at each end giving them a fern-like appearance. They are dark green above and paler green underneath. The bottom of the leaves are hairy as are the margins and midribs on top. When crushed, the leaves emit a sweet aroma from resinous glands that cover all the surfaces of the leaves. The fern-like leaves and their sweet odder account for the shrub's common name.

The fruit is a small nut containing up to four brown seeds that matures in August.

The root system is a rhizomic system.

This plant is useful for stabilizing soil and is used as a shelter by small animals. The early settlers of North America made tea from the leaves. The dried leaves have also been used to stuff pillows to give the pillows a fragrant aroma.

 

 

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