By Amy Melissa Witt
Recently, I was walking on one of Cape Elizabeth’s wonderful nature trails and was
captivated by all the ferns I encountered. The word fern is from the old Anglo-Saxon “fearn” meaning feather. Ferns symbolize sincerity towards others and are also symbols of magic, fascination, and confidence. It is no wonder I was so enthralled.
Ferns are very intriguing. Their leaves (also called fronds) are lovely to look at and have a variety of patterns and colors ranging from light to dark to bluish-green. They provide a wonderful sense of texture, from deeply-cut to delicate and lacey, to any environment they occupy. There are four particular types of habitats that ferns are found in: moist, shady forests; crevices in rock faces, especially when sheltered from the full sun; acid wetlands including bogs and swamps; and tropical trees.
Ferns have been around for millions of years and are the second-most diverse group of vascular plants on Earth, outnumbered only by flowering plants. Unlike flowering plants, ferns do not bear flowers and they reproduce from spores, which generally occur on the underside of fronds by structures called sporangia. Sporangia develop in clusters called sori. Sori can be circular, in distinct rows, or cover the entire underside of a frond. Other fern species have a sterile/fertile frond in which spores are produced only on certain fronds and not on others.
Most ferns have rhizomes, underground stems from which the fronds are produced. Many ferns have long, creeping rhizomes that form intricate networks underground, and while the fronds may die and drop off, these rhizomes can persist indefinitely, sending up new fronds year after year.
There are twelve common Maine fern species:
Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum)
Christmas Fern (Polystuchum arostichoides)
Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)
Evergreen Wood Fern (Dryopteris intermedia)
Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana)
Lady Fern (Athyrium felix-femina)
Long Beech Fern (Phegopteris connectilis)
New York Fern (Parathelypteris noveboracensis)
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) – best known for its edible fiddleheads
Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum)
Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis)
Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis)
There are so many fabulous local nature trails that meander through a variety of habitats and are wonderful places to see the twelve common ferns of Maine. Nexxt time you are out wandering on a trail, notice the variety of ferns. Consider the different environments they are in and what types of other plants or animals they share them with. Fern Finder by Anne C. Hallowell and Barbara C. Hallowell is a great guide to take with you on your adventure.