Pioneer Valley Fern Society

Fiddleheads 2024

Marginal Wood Fern

This fiddlehead was quite a surprise when Randy and I saw it last week on Bare Mountain. It is an unusually early fiddlehead for Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis). Usually we do not see development like this on the Marginal Wood Ferns until mid April or later. But this year has been unusual in its warm and cold weather pattern. I hope this fiddlehead survived our most recent cold and icy weather. It was very close to the trail in an open sunny spot. The future fiddleheads of the Marginal Wood Ferns we have been looking at further north in the Connecticut River Valley are still just little scaly crowns, little knobs with no extension yet. It is amazing how scaly this fiddlehead is. "Densely covered with golden brown "fur"" is how Boughton Cobb (Field Guide to Ferns, 1963) describes them. What a great description! This fern also has scaly stems, crowns and fiddleheads.

For further identification there are also the sori arranged near the margins of the pinnae, the leathery evergreen fronds and the symmetric clump characteristic of the wood ferns. The black woody-looking material behind the fiddlehead in the photo is a mass of exposed rhizomes, which is sometimes found with Marginal Wood Ferns. It is a common fern in the forest understory in our area, especially in rocky areas, and one of the ferns that I appreciate for the green it adds to our winter landscape.

The Narrow Beech Fern and Maidenhair Fern crowns that we are seeing now are similarly very scaly, but are much smaller than a penny. This Marginal Wood Fern fiddlehead was about an inch or so in height.

Big News! Our first Fiddlehead Walk this season will be Sunday April 21st (also John Muir's birthday). Location to be determined. We are keeping an eye on fiddlehead development in our favorite places. Since things seem to be ahead of the usual timing, we are moving our first walk forward a week. More info soon!