Main Narrative » Fern Fever

Victorian fern collecting (and overcollecting)

By Amy Weiss

Feb 15 2019

Fern collecting was one of few hobbies to transcend class and gender barriers during the Victorian era: people from all walks of life were avid collectors. Amateur botanists armed with field guides, would press ferns for scientific study, home décor, and as memories of happy hours spent with friends and family.

As early as 1840, concerned citizens were mentioning that some British ferns were nearly extinct locally — owing to the ravages of unprincipled botanists, thoughtless day trippers, and fern vendors who scoured the countryside for ferns to resell in cities.

These days botanists need collecting permits to collect plants in most parts of the world. Some threatened plant species are regulated by international treaties, such as CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), to ensure plant populations are not exploited.

“It seems cruelty so entirely to destroy the habitat of any Fern: yet, if the present rage continue, I see no hope of any known species being allowed to remain in its old haunts. The poor Ferns, like the wolves in olden times, have a price set upon their heads, and they in like manner will soon altogether disappear. We must have ‘Fern laws’, and preserve them like game.”
—Nona Bellairs, Hardy ferns: How I collected and cultivated them, 1865

More about: Ferns


Allen, D. E. 1969. The Victorian fern craze: A history of pteridomania. London: Hutchinson & Co.

Bellairs, N. 1865. Hardy ferns: How I collected and cultivated them. London: Smith, Elder and Co. Available at: (Accessed: 13 Mar 2019).

Boyd, P. D. A. 2002. Pteridomania - The Victorian passion for ferns. Available at: (Accessed: 25 Jan 2019).   

Whittingham, S. 2009. The Victorian fern craze. Oxford: Shire Publications.