Pioneer Valley Fern Society

Fiddleheads 2024

Ostrich Fern

For some people, a real harbinger of Spring is when the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) fiddleheads emerge. Randy and I have been out for weeks looking for early fiddleheads and wildflowers, many of which are up before the Ostrich Fern makes its entrance. These took us by surprise. When we visited this spot on April 6th, the clumps of future fiddleheads were still hard dark little knobs. But 8 days later, they were not only up but many were 6 inches or more in size! Sometime with the rain and warmer temperatures they really took off! But at another site we checked today, they were barely emerging. Amazing what a difference there can be between nearby sites. As pretty as they are at this stage, I think they are more beautiful when they develop their full sterile fronds and then the intricate fertile fronds.

This is the fern fiddlehead that people harvest for a special springtime meal. But we have seen people harvesting (and even selling) other fiddleheads for eating. Googling "edible fiddlehead ferns", one site suggests trying Bracken, Lady, and even Cinnamon fiddleheads as well. I would not recommend any of them!

You have to know your fiddleheads to be sure you have the right ones if you are going to harvest them. Later in the year they are tall graceful fronds with a feathery plume like shape, and very small leaflets or pinnae on the lower part of the grooved stem. This time of year the bright green fiddleheads grow in a tight clump and quickly start developing little leaflets along the smooth stems, as in this photo. We generally find them in floodplains and other wet areas.

We have decided that we will wait and have our first Fern Walk of the Season on Sunday April 28th, rather than the 21st. We had a really warm start to Spring in March, but then the cold came back and the early spring growth slowed down again. We are still trying to decide between sites and looking at some logistical problems (parking) right now. We will figure that out this week!