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ASPIDIUM FELIX MAS.-MALE SHIELD FERN.
Class XXIV. CRYPTOGAMIA.-Order I. FILICES.
Gen. Char. Fructification in roundish points, scattered, not marginal. Involucre umbilicated, open almost on every side.
Spec. CAAR. Frond nearly bipinnate. Pinnæ obtuse, notched. Stipe chaffy.
This species of Fern is the Ondurtepis of Dioscorides; it is a native of Britain, and is found in great abundance about the borders of woods, rivulets, and in stony rocky places, flowering in June and July. This species of fern (with others of the same family,) was ranked by Linnæus under the genus Polypodium, or Polypody tribe of plants; but modern botanists have separated the shield-fern from the Polypody, and formed a distinct genus of the shield-fern under the generic title Aspidium.*
The root is perennial, large, long, firm, and covered with thick brown imbricated scales, and furnished with numerous long fibres; the general leaves are pinnate, large, from one to four feet in length, lanceshaped, broader in the middle and gradually decreasing to each extremity, terminating above in an acute point; the partial or second leaves are from fifteen to twenty pair, remote on the lower part, gradually approaching nearer as they advance upwards, and running together at the top; the pinnæ are from seven to fifteen pair, which are largest at the bottom, and gradually decrease towards the top, where they unite in a point, they are of an oval form, and somewhat crenate at the upper extremity; the seed vessels are placed in two rows on the back of the pinnæ or lobes, in number from three to six, and covered with a pellicle; when the seeds are ripe, the pellicle bursts, and after the discharge of the seeds, the vessels become brown and appear as if covered with dust.
The Brakes or frondose ferns, Professor Burnett tells us, are not very extensively employed by man, either as food or in medicine. One species only finds a place in our national pharmacopeias, although several are possessed of curative powers, and are esteemed officinal plants in our provinces, and are entered by authority in the continental lists of the vegetable materia medica. Even the Aspidium felis mas, the only fern our colleges retain, is very rarely used; and yet, from its having been celebrated as an anthelmintic from time immemorial, and more especially from its never having been lauded as a panacea, like many fashionable medicines, which run their course and are forgotten, but always possessing a certain degree of reputation, it is not unreasonable to believe that it deserves it; and, if so, that it does not merit the neglect that it meets with here. The so-called male fern was recommended as a vermifuge by Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Galen; and its administration formed the ostensibly specific, if not the most energetic, part of the treatment recommended by Madame Noufer in cases of tape-worm. But it cannot be overlooked that she accompanied its exhibition with a strong dose of calomel, gamboge, and scammony, the very ingredients that formed the famous “Pulvis Trium Diabolorum,” and which were thought, in their alliance, to be powerful enough to discomfit even a more stubborn enemy than tænia.
The Scythian or Tartarian lamb is a species of Aspidium. Of this fern so many wonderful tales have been told, and supported by such evidence, that the world has doubted whether to discredit or believe them. Struys, who travelled through Russia, Tartary, &c., in the middle of the seventeenth century, gave one of the earliest and best accounts of this curious plant, and the following extract is almost a literal translation from his work.
* By mistake Polypodium was put on our drawing, and the error discovered too late to rectify.