Darwin Collects a Fern

Just in time to celebrate Darwin’s birthday, a publication in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society reported on 24 newly discovered specimens made by Darwin while on the voyage of the Beagle. The specimens represent 21 species distributed among 12 families of plants. For my own celebration of Darwin’s birthday, I decided to learn about each of the species mentioned in this publication and to find out what I can of his collection of the plants. This post is the first in the series, which will be irregularly published as I gather what material I can on the plants and on the voyage.

The first plant mentioned in the paper is a fern, called Asplenium dareoides, collected in Chile in December of 1834. Here’s an image from the Chilebosque (Chilean Forest) site, where I learned that the common name is Helechito perejil (bracken or fern parsley).



The specimen is labeled as having been collected at “Capo Tres Montes” in December 1934.

Darwin (from The Voyage of the Beagle):

December 30th (1834) – We anchored in a snug little cove at the foot of some high hills, near the northern extremity of Tres Montes. After breakfast the next morning, a party ascended one of these mountains, which was 2400 feet high. The scenery was remarkable; the chief part of the range being composed of grand, solid, abrupt masses of granite, which appeared as if they had been coeval with the beginning of the world.

The northern extremity of Tres Montes, in Chile
The Cape of the Three Mountains (in English) is near the Isthmus of Ofqui, which, if you click on the left hand image, you’ll see labeled near the coast. The cape is the southernmost curve of the isthmus (red square, right hand image).

Isthmus Of Ofqui Gulf Of Penas

And here is the “snug little cove at the foot of some high hills.” They anchored at the northern extremity of this cove.

Capo Tres Montes

Darwin, however, was far more impressed by the geology of the region than by the vegetation. He goes on to say:

The granite was capped with mica-slate, and this in the lapse of ages had been worn into strange finger-shaped points. These two formations, thus differeing in their outlines, agree in being almost destitute of vegetation. This barrenness had to our eyes a strange appearance, from having been so long accustomed to the sight of an almost universal forest of dark green trees. I took much delight in examining the structure of these mountains.

Almost destitute of vegetation
Nevertheless, when Darwin went ashore, he found a little vegetation, and being who he was, he sampled it.

The genus Asplenium has about 700 species and are commonly known as spleenworts although several species are called bird’s-nest ferns (wikipedia). Asplenium dareoides, however, is not among these more common ferns. It is found only in these rugged places, including in the Falkland Islands.

Asplenium Dareoides Dist

Perhaps because Darwin did not make much of it in his journal, the specimen was overlooked. But then it was found again, and properly filed at the Darwin Collection at Cambridge University Herbarium, 200 years later. Just in time to celebrate.

About Mary

I spent a few years at sea, and I never came back from a cruise without having learned something new about the ocean or what lived in it. After retiring to Panama, I began to learn something new about the tropical savanna ecosystem nearly every day I stepped outside. I focused on plants, those marvelous signs of life. Now I'm in my second retirement, living in Sicily. I'm leaving my plant studies online for those who have found them useful.
This entry was posted in Aspleniaceae, Darwin and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Darwin Collects a Fern

  1. tgaw says:

    Did you submit this to the Blog for Darwin Swarm? If not, you should!


  2. seedsaside says:

    Nice post. Don’t forget to submit it to the next Berry Go Round Carnival!


  3. Shelley says:

    Great title for a Web site!


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