Chapter 28. Forest Plants.
OTHER COMMON NAMES: (1) Male shield-fern, sweet brake, knotty brake, basket-fern, bear's-paw root; (2) marginal-fruited shield-fern, evergreen wood-fern.
HABITAT AND RANGE—These ferns are found in rocky woods, the male shield-fern inhabiting the region from Canada westward to the Rocky Mountains and Arizona. It is widely distributed also through Europe, northern Asia, northern Africa, and South America. The marginal-fruited shieldfern, one of our most common ferns, occurs from Canada southward to Alabama and Arkansas.
DESCRIPTION OF PLANTS—Both of these species are tall, handsome ferns, the long, erect fronds, or leaves, arising from a chaffy, scaly base, and consisting of numerous crowded stemless leaflets, which are variously divided and notched. There is but little difference between these two species. The male shield-fern is perhaps a trifle stouter, the leaves growing about 3 feet in length and having a bright-green color, whereas the marginal-fruited shield-fern has lighter green leaves, about 21 feet in length, and is of more slender appearance. The principal difference, however, is found in the arrangement of the "sori," or "fruit dots." These are the very small, round, tawny dots that are found on the backs of fern leaves, and in the male shield-fern these will be found arranged in short rows near the midrib, while in the marginal-fruited shield-fern, as this name indicates, the fruit dots are placed on the margins of the fronds. Both plants are perennials and members of the fern family (Polypodiaceae).
DESCRIPTION OF THE ROOTSTOCK—These ferns have stout ascending or erect chaffy rootstocks, or rhizomes as they are technically known. As taken from the ground the rootstock is from 6 to 12 inches in length and 1 to 2 inches thick, covered with closely overlapping, brown, slightly curved stipe bases or leaf bases and soft, brown, chaffy scales. The inside of the rootstock is pale green. As found in the storm, however, male-fern with the stipe bases and roots removed measure about 3 to 6 inches in length and about one-half to 1 inch in thickness, rough where the stipe bases have been removed, brown outside, pale green and rather spongy inside.
The stipe bases remain green for a very long period, and these small, claw-shaped furrowed portions, or "fingers" as they are called, form a large proportion of the drug found on the American market and, in fact, are said to have largely superseded the rootstock. Male-fern has a disagreeable odor, and the taste is described as bitter-sweet, astringent, acrid, and nauseous.
COLLECTION, PRICES AND USES—The best time for collecting Male-fern root is from July to September. The root should be carefully cleaned, but not washed, dried out of doors in the shade as quickly as possible, and shipped to druggists at once. The United States Pharmacopoeia directs that "the chaff, together with the dead portions of the rhizome and stipes, should be removed, and only such portions used as have retained their internal green color."
Great care is necessary in the preservation of this drug in order to prevent it from deteriorating. If kept too long its activity will be impaired, and it is said that it will retain its qualities much longer if it is not peeled until required for use. The unreliability sometimes attributed to this drug can in most instances be traced to the presence of the rootstocks of other ferns with which it is often adulterated, or it will be found to be due to improper storing or to the length of time that it has been kept. The prices paid for Male-fern root range from 5 to 10 cents a pound.
Male-fern, official in the United States Pharmacopoeia, has been used since the remotest times as a remedy for worms.
Grave results are sometimes caused by overdoses.