Maine Audubon regularly features posts by guest authors as part of our Maine’s Naturalist series. If you’d like to explore contributing a post about Maine wildlife, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Today’s post is from Susan Gilpin, and is a follow-up to her post from earlier this month.
Three weeks ago, many ferns were still uncurling from the fiddlehead stage, keeping their identities under wraps, at least from a newbie like myself. Today I have been sleuthing, and I have found most ferns revealing their identities, and one holding onto a mystery.
The ferns which had fuzzy stalks at the end of May are turning out, now in mid-June, to be two species. Cinnamon ferns are tricky to identify, because less than half have the separate, cinnamon-colored fertile frond which is a dead give-away. But I found another clue. Right behind the joint where each leaflet joins the stalk is a tiny, fuzzy ball. Fuzz-ball equals cinnamon fern.
The other fern with a fuzzy stalk at the fiddlehead stage is an interrupted fern; some but not all shrivel up and turn brown half way up the stalk, then green up again above the middle. No fuzz-balls on the joints of interrupted ferns. The two species grow in the same places, sometimes right next to each other, so habitat is no clue.
The ferns with hairy stalks are turning into lady ferns. Their spores are already lined up onto the backs of their fronds like eggs in an egg carton. Each spore is shaped like a microscopic curled-up kidney. Lady ferns are kind enough to give us another clue: they grow in clumps like most ferns, but unlike most ferns, their stalks do not radiate from a single point.
The fiddleheads which grew in little mounds in the spring, sometimes like islands in a wet spot like a pool or a gully, are turning out to be royal ferns. Their spores grow on top of their heads like little crowns. Four mysteries solved, and one new one to ponder.
Where are the New York ferns, narrow at both ends and wider in the center? I couldn’t find a single one. They must still be downtown, burning their candles at both ends.