At this time of year when things can get pretty hectic, preparing our cars and houses for winter, shopping for the holidays, adjusting to colder weather and shorter daylight hours, it is wonderful to be able to stop and become absorbed by the beauty of nature. I am not getting out as much or for as long as during the wonderful Spring through Fall, but when I do, I am so glad I did! You never know what cool things you might see!
Randy and I did our usual hike around the 4H Forest in Leverett yesterday. Not as cold as previous days, so we took our time. We identified 24 different species of ferns. I will write up a list and put it on the website under Documents/Fern Lists. There were 9 evergreen or overwintering green ferns, and the other 15 were members of my Dead Fern Society list, including the fern in this photo. Although most non-evergreen ferns have already turned brown, many still hold some of their form and key characteristics. But the most important key to our success is we know the route very well, and know where to look for the different ferns. You can do the same on your favorite routes. Not all the ferns will be easy to identify, but you can find more intact examples and check key characteristics to confirm the species.
This photo shows a portion of a very nicely intact Eastern Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris). They were especially robust this year, and in protected areas you can find some still standing. One of their identifying features is the twisting of the fronds. As they dry up their pinnae curl around as if they were hugging each other. It looked a bit like a DNA double helix to me. This is a fertile frond, and if you look closely you can see the sori or fruitdots, mostly covered by the margins of the subleaflets which curl over them (another identifying feature).
I wish you many wonderful days of exploration through this winter season. Why do I love ferns? They are so beautiful to observe, study, and photograph. And not too hard to learn to identify (easier than fungi and mosses). And they are a good excuse to get outside, any time of the year. Happy Holidays!
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