Log In

Reset Password

It’s in your nature: Ferns of the Times News region

guess much of my interest in nature came from my father. As I trekked along with him, he always had a nature quiz. I remember him pointing out sweet-ferns, talking about their fragrance, and some uses. In Boy Scouts, sweet-fern was identified as an excellent natural bedding for camping out under the stars. But Sweet-ferns aren’t ferns. But there ARE many fern species here in the Times News region. Some form dense, smothering forest mats, while others may grow on a rock face or in isolated clumps. No matter their habitat preference, they do have a few things in common.

There are over 10,000 fern species worldwide and are some of first land plants found on this evolving earth surface. Ferns have been on earth for over 350 million years and still use a primitive, but effective, method of reproducing. Ferns are a bit more advanced than mosses primarily because they have developed tissues allowing them to transport water and nutrients up into their stalks. Mosses don’t have this vascular tissue and are limited in size because of the inability to move those materials.

Ferns, for the most part, reproduce in a simple way by producing spores. These spores are similar to the spores that mushrooms produce and are rather wasteful. Thousands of spores get released by small structures underneath the fern leaf called sori. In case you aren’t familiar with the term, a fern leaf is called a frond.

If you turn over a frond, most have small brownish dots (sori) that when fully developed will release spores to ensure the species will survive another year. Many other fern species also send out underground, rootlike structures called rhizomes. Hay scented ferns, covering many of our forest floors, are one species that spreads using these underground stems.

Ferns are found almost everywhere except in extremely dry areas or the very coldest regions of the earth. The tropics, as can be expected, have the greatest number of species. Some tropical tree ferns can grow 70 or more feet high. There are a number of fern species that can be grown inside your homes, and landscapers will often utilize them to accent some of your flower or rock gardens.

I’ll use this column to introduce you to some of the more common species of this area. Hopefully some of the ferns in the photos will look familiar to you. If not, maybe on your nature walks you will be able to identify some you may have overlooked before. No matter, appreciate them for their aesthetics, as well as their importance in helping to begin the successional process on rocks, or abandoned fields.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: You have probably noticed that almost all robins have stopped their morning singing and most have left your yards. In October, robins in flocks of hundreds, will migrate through our area. Where are they now?

Last Week’s Trivia: Having 10 inch “woolly” basal leaves, common mullein is blooming on 2- or 3-foot flower stalks along our roads.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

One of the easiest ferns to identify is the sensitive fern. Contrary to its name, it appears to do well even in less damp and sunnier areas than most other ferns.
Interrupted ferns are easily identified by the brown spore bearing leaflets that interrupt the fern's normal leaflets along its stem.
Bracken fern can dominate forest clearings. Note the stiffer brown stem supporting leaflets almost looking shrublike.
The ostrich fern does best along shaded ponds, waterways and damp areas. These ostrich fern fiddleheads were just emerging in early May.
Christmas fern is an “evergreen.” It has a glossier green foliage that will still be green as February's melting snow reveals it again.
These sori are in an early stage of development. Sori placement and leaflet shape help in identifying fern species.
Hay scented ferns can cover the forest floor so completely that tree seedlings, like this red maple, may not get enough sunlight to survive.
Nearly all ferns have spore producing sori on the underside of the fronds. These sori are almost ready to release their spores.
Making for a pretty forest picture, hay scented ferns blanket the forest floor in Penn Forest, Mahoning Mountain, the Broad Mountain, etc. They spread rapidly with underground stems called rhizomes. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Common polypody ferns are fairly common in damp rocky areas of this region.
Sweet-fern is not a fern at all. It is actually a small shrub with fern-type foliage.
Crush some sweet-fern leaves and you will see how it got its name.