Fern: see Grace.
I love the way they come into the world… all curled up… fetal ferns… fiddleheads. I love the way they slowly unfurl into large lacey fronds.
For several summers I have been promising myself to learn the ferns of Western New York. I haven’t done so yet. Something always pushes itself to the front of the line. Still, a few of these graceful, gorgeous plants have managed to lodge their names in my gray matter.
Sensitive Fern. Naturalists like to make jokes about how you mustn’t say mean things around this fern because it is very sensitive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that joke on a nature walk. I may even be guilty of having said it myself. It’s OK. Sometimes corny things like that help me remember. What this fern is actually sensitive to is cold: it will be the first to wither when Fall sends her first hard frost. The leaves will be reduced to tan ghosts. Throughout the winter, the hard brown spore cases will stand on stiff stems above the snow. I probably get more questions about those spore cases than anything else! I wonder what they think it is? Next time I get that question, I’m going to turn the question back: “What do you think it is?”
Cinnamon Fern. A circular cluster of verdant fronds seems to stand guard protecting the cinnamon-colored reproductive fronds that sprout from the center like a fountain. It is said that Ruffed Grouse eat the fiddleheads of this fern and that hummingbirds use the fuzz from the young fronds to line their nests.
Interrupted Fern: On the larger fronds, sterile green leaflets are interrupted part way up by fertile leaflets. Some names just make complete sense.
P.S. While surfing around the ‘net looking for fern information, I happened on this website: http://www.ct-botanical-society.org/docs/fernchart.html. I think it will come in handy as I turn my attention to ferns and try to learn a few more names… maybe you’ll use it, too?
I was also curious about which fern species has edible fiddleheads. I had them once many years ago and they were delicious. Apparently, it’s the Ostrich Fern. But two warnings: Ostrich Fern fiddleheads can look like Bracken Fern fiddleheads – which are carcinogenic. And, there have been reports of food poisoning symptoms associated with consumption of fiddleheads that aren’t prepared properly. Read more here: