Plant Magic: Wisdom from the Green World

Whether you live in a city or the countryside, the magic of plants can be found everywhere and sometimes where you least expect it. Be open and explore the magic that surrounds you.

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Vikings, Runes, and a Fern

The Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana) is a bit unusual as most ferns go. The first time I saw a row of them at the edge of the meadow, from a distance I thought they looked like a line of aliens coming out of the woods. On closer inspection, I saw that they were very weird, indeed.
      As it matures, this fern develops into a vase shape that reaches three to four feet tall and has fertile and sterile fronds. In the early spring, the upright fertile fronds appear first with a section near the top of the plant with brown spore-producing leaflets. After releasing the spores, these leaflets fall away leaving a gap along the stem. The sterile fronds sprout up around the fertile fronds and create the plant’s graceful shape.
      As usual, I wanted to find out more about this plant I’d never seen before. The species name honors Virginia botanist John Clayton (1694 – 1773) — standard stuff — but the genus proved to be far more interesting and a little obscure. Osmunda is in the Osmundaceae botanical family, which is also known as the Royal Fern family. It was so named because the fertile leaflets, which usually appear at the top of the fronds gives the plant the appearance of wearing a crown. Except for the species in my field, which is interrupted and not crowned.
      The origin of the genus name is not certain, but it is said to honor someone called Osmund, Osmundus, or Asmund. One story associated with it comes from Saxon mythology and is about Osmund the Waterman of Loch Fyne on the west coast of Scotland. According to the legend, he hid his wife and daughter on a small island covered with these ferns to keep them safe during a Viking raid. His daughter is said to have named the fern after him.
      Although Saint Osmund of Salisbury and the Swedish archbishop of Skara, Osmundus, are often cited as potential name sources, so too is Åsmund Kåresson. The names Osmund, Osmundus, Asmund or Åsmund have a Norse/Germanic/Icelandic origin and are composed of the word Os or Ás meaning “god” and mund, “protection.” In terms of the runes, these meanings are found in the Younger Futhark symbol As, and the Anglo-Saxon Os, which are versions of the Elder Futhark Ansuz. This brings us full circle back to Åsmund Kåresson who was the earliest known rune carver in the province of Uppland, Sweden. The eleventh-century Ängby Stone is attributed to him.
      Magically, like most ferns the Interrupted Fern is associated with protection, defense, and security. Allied with the runic interpretation of Osmund, it may suggest special protection from deities. This plant’s energy is an aid for runic study and readings. In spending some time with this fern, I concluded that its interrupted feature carries a message. Life will always throw curveballs that knock us off course and there are times when we need to put things on hold. Life interrupted. However, sometimes they can provide a meaningful break, an interlude and chance to reassess things. Don’t be frustrated by an interruption, instead, find out what it means.


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The author of over a dozen books, Sandra is an explorer of history, myth, and magic. Her writing has been featured in SageWoman, The Magical Times, The Portal, and Circle magazines, Utne Reader and Magical Buffet websites, and various Llewellyn almanacs. Although she is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, she travels a solitary Goddess-centered path through the Druidic woods. She has lived in New York City, Europe, England, and now Maine where she lives in an 1850s farmhouse surrounded by meadows and woods.  


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