Ferns of North America

Desperate for green, and while I am waiting for my own ferns to pop out of the ground, I have been perusing various botanical books, several of which led me to some spectacular plates published right here in Salem in the later nineteenth century: Daniel Cady Eaton’s The Ferns of North America: Colored Figures and Descriptions, with Synonomy and Geographical Distribution of the Ferns (Including Ophioglossaceae) of the United States of America and the British North American Possessions (Salem, MA: S.E. Cassino, 1877-80) contains 81 beautiful lithographs hand-colored by James H. Emerton and C. E. Faxon. Another Salem surprise; I’m familiar with Cassino, whose diverse publications included everything from Black Cat Magazine to Bleak House, but this Eaton book is really spectacular.

PicMonkey Collage

Ferns of North America 2

Ferns of North America

I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised:  Cassino was trained as a naturalist before he turned to publishing, and seems to have been part of a New England circle surrounding the eminent Harvard naturalist Asa Gray which included Eaton and also John Robinson, head of the Botany Department at the (then) Peabody Academy of Science, whose somewhat less scholarly Ferns in Their Homes and Ours was also published by Cassino during this same time: the illustrations in Robinson’s book are less detailed and naturalistic (and certainly expensive) than those in Eaton’s, but still charming. Robinson designed the garden of the Ropes Mansion on Essex Street and his own large garden on Summer, right around the corner from my own house. While the former is still there, the latter is unfortunately buried under a parking lot. The Robinson house is still standing, however, and the garden plans are in the Library of Congress: they detail several fern borders similar to the illustration below.

Ferns Robinson 1

Ferns Robinson 2

How the Victorians loved their ferns, inside and out! The demand for books about ferns seems to be insatiable in the pre-1914 period, and the production of jardinières impressive. In the Victorian language of flowers, ferns were assigned mystical meanings, but also represented shelter, which might explain some of their interior attraction.

PicMonkey Collage

Ferns 1902 Binding by Margaret Neilson Armstrong

Plates from Shirley Hibberd’s Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste (1870); another recent find:  Frances Theodora Parsons’  How to Know the Ferns (1902) with an amazing cover by esteemed binding designer Margaret Nielson Armstrong.

3 responses to “Ferns of North America

  • markd60

    There was a place here, where the AC dripped into a corner blocked by the wall of the corner and the AC unit, that was like a shady crack or a valley where ferns and all kinds of life grew that you don’t see much here in the tropics.

  • Jane Griswold Radocchia

    Hello Donna Seger,

    You may recognize my name as one who leaves comments on your blog from time to time.

    I am currently advising a family about the c.1990 arched doors on their garage which were supposed to echo Federal carriage houses, like those in Salem. Remembering your excellent post this past February, I went to see your images again.

    Alas! ( time to be dramatic!) the photographs are no longer on-line!

    Would there be some way for me to have access to those pictures to be able to share them with the family and possibly with the local preservation board?

    Thanks for your possible help, and for your blog,

    Jane Radocchia

    • daseger

      Sure, Jane. I do not know what happened to that post—the pictures indeed just disappeared. I have been meaning to go back in and re-insert them but forgot: this is a good prompt. Check back tomorrow, and if there’re not there just email me at daseger@comcast.net and I’ll send them to you directly.

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