Quick facts

Common name(s): hart’s tongue fern, burnt weed

Scientific name: Asplenium scolopendrium

Family: Aspleniaceae

Origin: native

In leaf: year-round

Habitat: woodland, hedgerows, sheltered places

What does hart’s tongue fern look like?

Hart’s tongue fern is an evergreen fern with rosettes of leathery leaves. It can grow in large drifts among rocks and beneath trees, and is widespread in UK woodlands.

Fronds: deep green, arching, strap-like glossy fronds with slightly wavy edges and a pointed tip. Erect and up to 50cm long. The fronds aren’t divided like most other ferns.

Rachis/stem: young specimens have a scaly rachis which is not usually visible on older, taller plants.

Rhizome: branching, short and ascending, lying partly above and partly below the surface of the soil.

Sora/spores: sora (where spores are stored) lie on the underside of the leaf in horizontal stripes. Spores are ripe around July to August.

Where to find hart's tongue fern

Hart's tongue fern is widespread in the UK, except in the far North. It's often featured on ancient-woodland-indicator plant lists as a species which can help identify old woodlands and ecological continuity. It is usually found in more base-rich soils, typically in ashwoods, and avoids the most acidic substrates.

Globally, it is widely spread in central and southern Europe, but can also be found in north-west Africa and Asia.

Trees woods and wildlife

A sign of ancient woodland

Hart's tongue fern is an ancient-woodland-indicator plant. If you spot it while you're out exploring, it could be a sign you're standing in a rare and special habitat.

Learn more about ancient woodland

Credit: Alex Hyde / naturepl.com

Uses of hart's tongue fern

The fronds contain compounds that are used in medicines and cosmetics. Its uses range from astringents and cough medicines, to treatment of high blood pressure and for healing wounds.

Other medicinal uses include treatments for dysentery, diarrhoea and digestive problems.

It is grown as an ornamental plant and as ground cover in woodland shade.

Threats and conservation

Although not a significant threat, it may be affected by a rust fungus Milesina scolopendrii in mild, damp winters. This fungus can host-alternate with fir trees (Abies spp.) where it occurs on the needles.