Some Albanian ferns


Plants seen

Slightly smaller than Belgium, Albania is a little known but fascinating country on the Balkan Peninsula, opposite the heel of Italy’s ‘boot’. It is the most mountainous (and the poorest) country in Europe, with a consequent floristic diversity (over 3200 species) that was well-described by Hoda (1993). In the Flora e Shqipërisë, only 9 fern-allies and 36 species of fern (including two species whose status is uncertain) are recorded: on the face of it, a meagre total, even by British standards. However, there are some interesting species there, some familiar from Western Europe, but others representing the Mediterranean element that is so conspicuous among the higher plants of Albania.

In the course of a two week visit to central and south Albania in April 1991 with a party of botanists and horticulturists, I was able to see 14 of the ferns (plus one possible hybrid) and 3 allies, as well as a wide range of flowering plants. A subsequent week-long visit, in August of the same year, took me to the north of the country. Unfortunately this was a flying trip, in company with a party that was, apart from my wife, less keen to indulge the whims of a solitary botanist. Consequently, few ferns were seen in that region. However, there is little doubt that montane species would be well represented in the north, something I would love to have the opportunity to follow up!

In the meantime, the following notes may be of interest to others contemplating a visit to this beautiful country.

Selaginella denticulata Various places along the road from the Llogara Pass to Dhërmi and Borsh; rock crevices near Lake of Butrint; shaded rock crevices, Delvinë. A small and completely prostrate species with short, stalkless strobili. It grows in damp rock crevices in several roadside locations, often quite exposed, and then strongly tinged with reddish-orange. This species is not recorded for Albania in Flora Europaea or either of the Albanian Floras, but it is in Atlas Florae Europaeae. Selaginella helvetica is also recorded from Albania, but was not seen.

Equisetum arvense Uji i Ftohtë near Tepelenë, in woodland close to Vjosë river. This Uji i Ftohtë (there is another near Vlorë) is a beauty spot with a restaurant by the river. Platanus orientalis grows almost in the water. The area might repay further botanising.

Equisetum telmateja Uji i Ftohtë near Tepelenë, in woodland near the Vjosë river.

Cheilanthes fragrans Various places along the roadside between the Llogara Pass, Dhërmi and Borsh; Butrint. Growing in rock crevices in quite exposed sites.

Adiantum capillus-veneris Shady wet cliff by road west of Librazhd; the uncommon Pinguicula hirtiflora also grows here. Peshkopi: rough, stony ground behind sanatorium, in shade of boulders, but the area appears to be fairly dry.

Pteridium aquilinum Delvinë, amongst scrub vegetation; near Milot in open places; waste land by Mesi bridge near Shkodër; Pukë to Kukës road on roadside bank. Nowhere did I see the really extensive stands that are commonly met with in Britain.

Asplenium trichomanes Butrint, on stony bank in deep shade; Delvinë, shady rock crevices; Uji i Ftohtë, near Tepelenë, on stone walls.

Asplenium adiantum-nigrum Roadside banks between Vlorë and the Llogara Pass; Butrint, on shady banks; Delvinë, stony banks among scrub.

Asplenium onopteris Butrint, shaded bank; Delvinë in shady places among scrub.

Asplenium ceterach Castle walls, Shkodër, looking very wizened in August; Dajti mountain, east of Tiranë, in rock crevices; Iljaz, north of Dhërmi in roadside walls; Butrint, on walls; Muzinë pass (east of Delvinë) small plants in rock crevices; Uji i Ftohtë near Tepelenë, in walls.

Asplenium scolopendrium Uji i Ftohtë near Tepelenë, among stones in damp woodland near river.

Asplenium x ticinense??Asplenium x ticinense (adiantum-nigrum x onopteris) Butrint (previous year's frond) shady bank. (silhouette right) This is a distinctive-looking frond, but we all know how misleading that can be with the ferns. The name is suggested very tentatively and endorsed 'possibly' by Chris Page (pers. comm.).

Cystopteris fragilis Barmash, among rocks in woodland margin. I was surprised not to see this much more often, given what a rocky country it is.

Polystichum setiferum Delvinë, in shady places among scrub, plants growing to 60cm; Syri i Kalter (‘Blue Eye’), a spectacular spring at Bistricë, south-east of Delvinë. A large specimen was growing in the bank immediately above the pool in which the spring wells up.

Dryopteris villarii (syn. D. villarii subsp. pallida) Roadside banks between Vlorë and the Llogara Pass; Iljaz, north of Dhërmi; Uji i Ftohtë near Tepelenë. An attractive fern, more divided and less rigid looking than our native D. submontana (syn. D. villarii subsp. submontana).

Polypodium australePolypodium australe Iljaz, near Dhërmi, small plant, growing with Asplenium ceterach on wall; Butrint; Syri i Kalter, Bistricë, a fine specimen in a large tree of Platanus orientalis (right). Although recorded in the Albanian Floras, records of this species from Albania were deliberately omitted in Atlas Florae Europaeae. The photograph confirms its existence there!

Polypodium vulgare Delvinë, on rocks among scrub, small, stunted specimens appeared to be this species.

Anogramma leptophyllaAnogramma leptophylla Vlorë, steep rocky bank on coast road south of town; Llogara/Dhërmi/Borsh road, descent from Llogara pass (between Vlorë and Dhërmi) to Ionian sea; Iljaz, rock crevices by road (left); Butrint, rock crevices. This fern, although evidently quite widespread, at least in the south-west, does not appear in the Flora e Shqipërisë, the Flora Eskursioniste e Shqipërisë, Flora Europaea or the Atlas Florae Europaeae. It was noted, with Selaginella denticulata, from Butrint by North.

Apart from adding a few dots to the distribution records in Atlas Florae Europaeae there are, perhaps, no real excitements here. Nevertheless, I found both visits rewarding in many ways and not just for the ferns. Albania is a country of great diversity and beauty and most visitors are quickly won over by the immense charm and kindness of its people, however poor they may be by the standards of Western Europe.

I visited the country at a political watershed, just after the first democratic elections, which returned what was to prove a short-lived socialist government. The first trip was during a sort of political hiatus, but society appeared to be functioning fairly smoothly; however, by August it was distressing to see how the industrial and agricultural infrastructure were disintegrating. Too much of the communist-inspired infrastructure had been scrapped too quickly and with nothing to take its place.

The subsequent years have consequently been very turbulent, culminating in the present rather unstable situation: the ship is still 'wallowing rudderless in stormy seas' as I noted in August 1991. I don’t suppose that anyone can foretell what will happen there over the next few months and years but, should the opportunity arise, I should jump at the chance to pay another visit, to enjoy further the ferns and other plants and, above all, to renew the friendships that I made.


I am grateful to Petrit Hoda of the University of Tiranë for his invaluable guidance in the field; to Primrose Peacock for organising the first trip I went on; to my then employer, the Royal Horticultural Society for financial support and to Chris Page at Edinburgh for his comments on some of the Asplenium specimens. This article was first published in The Pteridologist, a journal of the British Pteridological Society and is reproduced with permission of the Editor.


Demiri, M. (1981) Flora Ekskursioniste e Shqipërisë. Tiranë.
Hoda, P. (1993) The vegetation of Albania. Quart. Bull. Alpine Garden Society 61 (4): 421-426.
North, C. (1990) The Rock Garden. 22 (1): 63-70.
Paparisto, K., Demiri, M., Mitrushi, I. & Qosja, Xh. [Eds.] (1988) Flora e Shqipërisë. Tiranë.


Since this article was written, it is pleasing to note that relative stability has settled upon Albania. The country still has many problems to solve, but it would appear to be moving steadily in the right direction.

The environment and biodiversity report link (right) is useful, but note that the data in the table 'Biodiversity in Albania 2000' is not correctly lined up: everything in the first column should be moved up one place. The figure of 45 given for ferns includes fern-allies.