Week thirty-one: CETERACH (probability 27169), by David Sutton

A CETERACH is a species of fern, Asplenium ceterach, belonging to the SPLEENWORT genus, and sometimes known as the rusty-back fern. Chambers gives the name as coming via mediaeval Latin from the Arabic shitarakh; the OED more cautiously says the origin of the name has been variously sought in Celtic and Arabic.

Ferns have been around for a long time and there are a great many genera and species, but relatively few have vernacular names, reflecting perhaps the fact that from the human point of view they are not spectacularly useful plants, though they have been enlisted for medicinal purpose: some have edible roots and Turner's 'New Herbal' refers to the leaves of ceterach, made hot in vinegar, as a cure for spleen. But other vernacular fern names do include STAGHORN, referring to the shape of the fronds, WOODSIA, named for the botanist James Woods, OSMUND (or OSMUNDA), the royal-fern, of unknown origin, and the Australian BUNGWALL, while aquatic ferns, or water ferns, include PILLWORT and AZOLLA, and tree ferns, which are common in New Zealand, include MAMAKAU (or MAMAKO or MAMAKU) and PONGA (or PUNGA).

And finally one of my favourite words, because it sounds so soft and cushiony: FERNSHAW, denoting a thicket of ferns.


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