Ferns all year round

May 24, 2024 Tammy No comments exist

Some of the things that we can see in the winter may be observed all year round…though our attention is focussed on the spring flowers or fall colours...and we might just overlook some other amazing elements of the forest. So, as we pause to admire the magical beauty of the freshly fallen snow, let’s take a closer look at one of the hardy and intriguing ferns…the marginal wood fern, Dryopteris Marginalis.

One hint to correctly identifying this plant is to look at your surrounding habitat. Marginal wood ferns can be found growing on rocky areas, slopes and ravines in the forest, and along wooded streams. So, it is right at home on the forested escarpment in Louth Conservation Area. Next, we have the unusual observation that this fern remains green and leathery in the middle of winter: it’s evergreen!

Two other features help us to ID the marginal wood fern. Firstly, it does not spread underground, but instead will grow in a nice tidy clump. And finally, it has little round dots (called sori) on the bottom of the fronds located along the margin (yes along the margin, just like in the name). Check a few of the fronds because there are fertile ones with the sori and sterile fronds without.

So, why do we never see ferns in bloom? Well, the fern family of plants has been around for hundreds of millions of years – even before dinosaurs – and that’s long before cones, seeds, or flowers were even invented. Instead, they reproduce sexually by tiny spores (originating in
the sori) and some can spread vegetatively using their stems or leaves. So, sori, there’s no flowers! Instead, we can admire the delicate new fiddleheads as they unfurl in the spring. In case you were  wondering…. DO NOT eat them!!

Now that you know the marginal wood fern, keep exploring the winter landscape and you may find two other evergreen ferns: the Christmas Fern and the Walking Fern.

For fern identification, check out the Ontario Ferns Website, which also includes a guide to fern silhouettes, like the one above: http://ontarioferns.com .

Submitted by Helen Hermansen

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