Even though I’m a major tree lover from the time I could climb them, I also love the large diversity of plants and other living things that grow on and underneath trees, including wildflowers, club moss, mushrooms, moss, lichens, liverworts, horsetails and ferns.
Ferns were just interesting green things I used to appreciate but never really thought about identifying until I took a field botany course and found out identifying ferns is really not hard at all! The best book for identifying ferns is Fern Finder, by Anne C. Hallowell and Barbara G. Hallowell.
This particular book is a guide for native ferns of central and northeastern US and Eastern Canada. There is the Pacific Coast Fern Finder, also.
One fern that doesn’t need keying out is the Interrupted Fern (Osmunda Claytoniana). While I read and learned about this unique fern for my class, I never imagined when I first saw it growing at Allegany State Park in May that it would be as tall as it was at that time. The fronds (“leaves”) can grow up to six feet long! Interrupted fern has fertile pinnae (“leaflets”) “interrupting” sterile pinnae in the center of each frond. There are usually two to four pairs of fertile pinnae with dark brown sporangia when they’re ripe. They wither and fall, leaving vacant spots on the leaf stem after midsummer. Here’s what the fertile pinnae looked like at Allegany State Park on May 26th:
Here’s a closer look at the dark brown sporangia on the fertile pinnae:
Interrupted fern doesn’t have any cinnamon colored hairs on its stipe (base of the frond). However, it has some loose fur when it is young, but is smooth when it matures. It prefers dry soil but does well in a variety of places. It serves as a soil anchor in steep rocky localities with sparse soil. Which is interesting because we saw this fern on the old ski slope at Allegany State Park. The ferns were located about halfway down this slope which leads to an old growth forest:
This fern grows from Newfoundland to Manitoba south to western North Carolina, northern Georgia and Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota.
I hope you’ll go to the woods and start getting really close to ferns and keying them out – unless you already have! Thanks to Tom for allowing me to be a guest on his blog, and for letting me share my love of the interrupted fern, and ferns in general!
Sources: Palmer, Laurence, Some New York Ferns, The Conservationist, August-September 1962
Lellinger, David B., A Field Manual of the Ferns & Fern-Allies of the United States & Canada, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985.
P.S. I would list my Fern Finder as a source but I lent it out to a good friend. Which reminds me, I need to get that book back so I can have more fern fun myself!
This guest post was written by NatureWoman.