Led Zeppelin’s Spleenwort

led zeppelin fern
Led Zeppelin’s spleenwort

Yesterday, I had to consult Wikipedia to find out if Led Zeppelin was a person or a band. What I really wanted to know was why a spleenwort is the cover art for disc three of the 1990 Led Zeppelin Boxed Set.

I found the CD while organizing a bookcase at home, and the fern gave me an excuse to stop organizing and start identifying. The image is not super crisp, so I can’t see the pinnae margins clearly enough, nor how they meet the rachis. My best guess, thanks to my Fern Finder booklet, is black-stemmed spleenwort (Asplenium resiliens).

Although, if those pinnae are lobed (are they?), it could be a maidenhair spleenwort.
My first thought was ebony spleenwort, like what grows in the disappearing mortar of our chimney, but Led Zeppelin’s pinnae are mostly opposite, not alternate.

Pinnae is a funny word.
So is the name Led Zeppelin. Which is a band.

Back to my original question: why a fern?
The fern may not be the point. Circles may the point, so to speak. If you look to the right of the fern, you’ll see three interlocking rings. They look like black lichen or maybe the imprint of a very wet mug set down three times on a very dry surface. Three rings, disc three. But it’s also the “personal symbol”of drummer John Bonham. And, of course, a symbol for the Holy Trinity. And, upside down, for Ballantine Beer. By the way, the Ballantine Beer symbol was chosen—says the legend—when the founder “noticed the overlapping condensation rings left by beer glasses on a table; however, this logo was not created until 1879.”

The boxed set cover and other albums all deal with circles whole or implied:
crop circles on the set cover;
an acanthus leaf and ellipsis on disc one;
round sundial in leafy shadow on disc two;
three interlocking circles and fern on disc three;
and a fragment of a circle with fish bladders on disc four.
Bear with me on the fish bladders. In the ’70s, when band members chose symbols to represent themselves, “Bassist John Paul Jones’ symbol was a single circle intersecting three vesica pices (a triqutra),” a.k.a. fish bladders.

One more thing: Led Zeppelin is a British band, and the black-stemmed spleenwort (if it is indeed thus) is a fern of the Americas.

The Brits have their own adorable spleenworts.

There is more to say on spleens, the Four Humors and worts, but not today.


Notes (heavy on the Wikipedia):
“Led Zeppelin Album Art, Part 3” (article with pics of the covers in question)
Wikipedia article about Spleenworts in general
Wikipedia article about the symbols chosen by band members
Wikipedia article about the Ballantine brewing company
Wikipedia article about the 1990 boxed set

Fern Finder, by Anne C. Hollowell and Barbara G. Hallowell, 2001 Nature Study Guild Publishers, ISBN 9780912550244.

P.S. I’m still trying to come up with a decent pun about the album cover and the name Robert PLANT. (He is a person, not a band.)