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Whisk Ferns

Did you ever wonder where the name “whisk broom” came from? First of all it is Norwegian – and originated long ago as a result of the Norse people using this plant with a long bare stem to hang onto, and multiple almost bare branches at its tip. Got dirt on your sport coat? Pluck one of these plants hold it by the stem – and “whisk” it off. The Norse people used them to “visk” off the offending dirt. Only later did “visk” become “whisk” in English. Long before “whisk brooms” were “invented”, the Norwegian people found them in nature, made use of them, and gave them their name.

Whisk Ferns are not true ferns. They lack the leafy fronds and roots of ferns. Their slender, black rhizomes function somewhat like roots in that they hold the whisk fern in place and produce its multiple green stems. These rhizomes also have an intimate relationship with fungi that aid them in absorbing water and nutrients.

Only one species of whisk fern is native to North America and it is found primarily in the southeastern states. It is relatively uncommon and is usually found growing from a rotting log or from the base of a broken-off cabbage palm frond – such as shown in the attached photo.