Story and Photographs by Joan Herrmann
Whereiwander… today, it finally looks like spring in the North Country. The flowering trees are in full bloom, and the leaves are on the hardwood trees. The black walnut trees have buds, and the lilacs should be blooming by week’s end. One of my favorite trees, and one that grows profusely on our road, is the Roundleaf Serviceberry (Amelanchier sanguine), and its common name is also Shadbush. Most tree flowers are pollinated by the wind. Therefore its flowers bloom before the leaf buds have opened, allowing pollen dispersal without leaf interference. The blossoms are suspended on long thin stems called peduncles.
Many of the plants that like their “feet wet” are now appearing in wetlands and ditches along the roadside. Marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage, which I mentioned in earlier columns, are both in full bloom right now. Another interesting plant that also may be found in these same habitats is known as False Hellebore (Veratrum viride). It is a plump plant with large veined leaves and may grow to be two to seven feet in height. The flowers are green and star-shaped. The leaves are more dramatic than the flowers. It, too, has another common name which is Indian Poke.
Today it is actually ferns that draw my attention the most. We are blessed to have numerous species in our areas. Ferns have really long history; scientists have found fossils of ferns which are more than two hundred million years old. One of the most easy to identify ferns, whose common name is Interrupted Fern has been found in fossils in Antarctica, and they look exactly like the ones you may see along an Adirondack trail or elsewhere throughout the northeast. Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana) gets its species name from John Clayton, an English-born botanist who lived in Virginia and the common name comes from the “interrupted” gap in the middle of the blade where the fertile portions of the plant are located. This fern may grow to be sixteen to forty inches tall. Ferns are vascular plants that reproduce via spores. They do not have seeds or flowers. Vascular plants have tissue for conducting water and minerals throughout the plant. Unlike seed plants, ferns produce thousands of spores that disperse on a breeze caused by the wind or by animals brushing up against them. The spores are then carried to a suitable spot, where under the right conditions; it will begin its life as a gametophyte. Only after many cycles later will a tiny fern begin to grow. The container that holds the spores is called sorus (sori plural), and it may be the best aid in the identification of many species of ferns.
Presently the “fiddleheads” are pushing their way through the soil and are unfurling. The fiddleheads lie dormant throughout the winter, waiting for the snow to have melted and the ground to warm up. The name fiddlehead comes from their shape, which is thought to resemble the scroll on the end of a stringed instrument such as fiddle or violin. The shape has also been referred to as a crosier which is a staff used by a Shepherd. Fiddleheads may be found in several colors, from bright green of the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) to the gray-green of the Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) and the burgundy color of the Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis). Some fiddleheads are smooth with a brittle papery covering, and others are fuzzy in appearance. Ostrich fern fiddleheads are known as an edible spring vegetable, which tastes a bit little asparagus or broccoli, however, the fuzzy Christmas or Cinnamon fern fiddleheads are definitely Not edible. Unless you are with someone that knows which fiddleheads are edible, I strongly urge you to purchase them from a grocery store or an outdoor market.
Many different species of fern may be found while hiking our local trails, and others may be found in woodland gardens. Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum) is a special favorite that is growing in both our shaded woodland garden and our sunny rock wall garden. I have also encountered it growing near streams and waterfalls throughout the Adirondacks. Its graceful shape reminds me of a pinwheel. Adiantum, its genus name, comes from the Greek word meaning “not wetting,” and it refers to the ability of the frond to shed water without becoming wet. Their stripes (the portions growing out of the ground to the leafy area) are often black, and the rachis is black or green. It grows to be twelve to thirty inches tall. Maidenhair fern was once considered a cure for baldness. It is not an evergreen and will die back after a hard frost,
Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum) also known as rock cap fern, may be found growing on glacial erratics (large boulders) throughout the Adirondacks. Rock Polypody is an evergreen and may be seen all year round. The large circular sori may be found on the underside of the fronds. Polypody can survive extreme drought conditions. Its leaves roll up with the lack of moisture and unroll when it is available. Its fronds are eaten by deer, grouse, and turkeys.
Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is an evergreen and is common throughout the north country. Its fronds were once harvested to make Christmas wreaths. The fronds stay green all winter but will die back once springtime new fronds unfurl. Its sori may be found on the underside of the pinnules, which are thought to resemble a Christmas stocking. Its fronds are also eaten by wildlife.
The Interrupted Fern is an Osmunda, and there are two more. Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) and Royal Fern (Osmunda spectabilis). Cinnamon ferns have both sterile fronds and fertile spore-bearing fronds, which, when mature, are a lovely cinnamon color. The fertile fronds stand erect, are shorter, and are surrounded by green sterile fronds. The fertile fronds will remain until the next season. Cinnamon ferns form huge root masses, and their name comes from the color of the fertile fronds. Native Americans used cinnamon fern as a cold remedy and also as a remedy for snake bites. Royal fern also has both fertile and sterile fronds and prefers a wetter environment. Look for it in bogs and wetlands in addition to along the edges of ponds and streams.
I will be looking for you whereiwander.
As a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator, Joan Herrmann has been teaching and doing programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers, for about 38 years. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995, she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York, she has been educating children and adults for nineteen years.
In 2007 she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP). In 2013 and 2014, and did a week-long summer program at BROEP in conjunction with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC). Using her love of nature and photography, she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.
Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in cataloging all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.
Since October 2016, she has been writing a bi-monthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with the My Little Falls newspaper. You may reach her at email@example.com.