Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fern Fan

A fern fan I am. Ferns, those survivors from a time before humans, or even mammalian human ancestors walked the earth, are ignored by many people. Most of today’s ferns are small woodland plants that never flower. 

The ancestors of today’s ferns predate the evolution of flowering plants and get along quite nicely without flowers or seeds. Instead they reproduce by vegetative means or through spores; the spores are microscopic and winds easily carry them long distances – and thus begins a complicated reproductive process. Spores that land in a suitable location develop into a gametophyte where the male and female parts develop and fertilization takes place. The new plant then develops roots, a small stem and the first leaves.

Ferns and fern allies were the dominant plants during the Carboniferous period when they created the coal deposits modern civilization is utilizing and thus helping to cause a disastrous change in the earth’s climate. Here's a photograph of the fossilized stem of a large Carboniferous fern -

With the evolution of flowering plants ferns diminished until they are now small plants; most species subsist on the low light beneath the forests of flowering plants.

A plant that is often mistaken for a fern is the mis-named sweet-fern which is actually a shrub related to rhododendron and mountain laurel - 

A sampling of northeastern ferns reveals a great variety of shapes and sizes growing in diverse habitats, some don’t even fit the mental image of a fern –

Bracken grows on dry infertile sites, often in the sun, and is frequently more than two feet tall –  

Christmas fern is an evergreen fern of cool, moist forests. The pinnae (“leaflets”) have a lobe that some think resembles the toe of a Christmas stocking –

Cinnamon fern’s fertile fronds resemble cinnamon sticks, hence the name. This fern is usually found near springs or near the edge of wetlands – 

Ebony spleenwort, a small, although it may occasionally grow to be about a foot tall, fern with a very dark brown, not black, stem –

Hay-scented fern is the only fern of which I’m no fan. It forms widespread colonies as it rapidly spreads by way of horizontal underground rhizomes. These colonies are so large and dense that they (combined with deer browsing) have eliminated tree seedlings and wildflowers from extensive areas –

Interrupted fern was named because its fertile pinnae are found midway along the fronds –

Leathery grape fern is a plant of acidic soils low in nutrients; it often grows in disturbed habitats –

New York fern is one of the most common ferns in the northeast, not just in New York; its fronds typically taper at both ends –

Northern maidenhair fern is one of our most beautiful ferns; it grows on moist fertile soils –

Ostrich fern supplies the fiddleheads for spring meals. The fiddleheads are frequently picked and sold commercially –

Rattlesnake fern at first glance doesn’t look like a fern; its name derives from the spore bearing portion resembling a snake’s rattles –

Rock polypody forms dense caps on rocks, draping the rock with its evergreen fronds. It’s occasionally found growing on the limbs of very old trees.

Royal fern is another of our beautiful ferns and is found worldwide. Growing in wet areas it is also one of the largest ferns found in the northeast –

Sensitive fern turns brown and wilts at the first frost. It is thought that this species has existed in its present form for at least 60 million years –

Walking fern doesn’t get up and go, it “walks” when the tip of its very unfernlike fronds touch the ground, root and form new plants –

Yup, I’m a fan of these beautiful, complicated and ancient plants.


The Furry Gnome said...

Another fern lover! And a great collection of pictures and species. I've loved ferns for decades, and tried to find most of the ones in Ontario. Your post gives me lots of ideas.

Uta said...

Love your fern education and grow most of them in my back garden where I have to water when we get very dry weather. Keep the beautiful pictures coming, thanks.

Out To Pasture said...

An excellent tutorial, Woody! I was especially fascinated by the towering fern trees I saw during my stay in the eastern part of Australia. Ferns are indeed wonderful.

Robert Folzenlogen said...

Thanks for the fern education. I, like you have always been a fan but your knowledge of these wonderful plants is far greater. Enjoyed the post!

Blogoratti said...

There's just something about ferns. Lovely post indeed and very insightful, and great photos. Thanks for sharing and greetings!