Friday, April 15, 2022

Quiet Times: Ferns Emerging

Ferns Emerging

This morning on my walk in the forest at Elderberry, the rustling of leaves alerted me to the swift and smooth sprint of a wild turkey across the length of my section of the woods. Of course, the turkey had seen me first. It was a nice surprise. 

Another wonderful surprise in the forest here has been the number and variety of ferns emerging from their winter sleep. The woods are full of spring fiddleheads. Fiddleheads look just like the word sounds – they are unfurling fern fronds that resemble the top of a violin.

Because I began walking these woods last winter, I was familiar with the evergreen Christmas ferns, so named because they are still green at Christmas. In fact, I sometimes accidentally call them “Christmas tree ferns!”. We have a deciduous forest at Elderberry – most of the trees drop their leaves in the fall, turning everything brown and gray. There are a few pines, cedars, and holly trees, but what puts a vibrant splash of green in the bleak landscape are the Christmas ferns and the running cedar ground cover, both of which blanket the ground in some parts of our forest.

I expected to see plenty of Christmas fern fiddleheads emerge this spring from the center of the old flattened fronds, and I have not been disappointed. However, it has been enchanting to see the delicate fiddleheads of other woodland ferns spring up everywhere – from the ground, from decaying logs, at the base of trees, and from between rocks.

I used to consider myself somewhat of a “fern lady” because I grew many different kinds of ferns in my former soggy, shady backyard. I knew each one by name because I had purchased them at the garden store. Now, however, I find myself delightfully baffled. I can maybe tell a wood fern from a lady fern, but that’s about it. This morning, I discovered a royal fern which looks different enough from the others to identify. I have no idea what the name of most of our forest ferns here are. Even the same fern looks different from day to day as its fronds spread wide, grow tall, and turn a deeper shade of green.

Ferns love damp shade, particularly near water like a creek, which we have in the woods at Elderberry. They do not bloom but spread by both airborne spores and underground rhizomes. It’s clear the forest here is a perfect habitat for them to spread both ways.

Let me show you one of my favorite fern locations in the forest at Elderberry. Click to watch the video

Words, image and video by Cheryl Lawrence

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