For me studying ferns began at home or, more accurately, in the neighbourhood around my home. To learn about ferns you don’t need to visit a botanical garden, university herbarium, or natural history museum. A short walk around your own neighbourhood may surprise you with a number of easily recognizable species. To help, there are easy-to-use resources available for figuring out “who are the ferns in your neighbourhood?”
Since the beginning I’ve found “compare and contrast” to sometimes be the easiest method of identifying or telling ferns apart. With more practice I started to notice more detailed differences in form and habitat of other species – even if I couldn’t name them. A few clues I use to distinguish ferns include whether: 1) they’re evergreen or deciduous, 2) all the fronds look the same or there are two different types on the same plant, and 3) they’re growing in moist or drier places.
At a casual glance three species of ferns stand out in our neighbourhood. Cinnamon Fern is probably the most obvious during the growing season, it’s a large fern found absolutely filling and spilling out of moist ditches. In addition to its impressive size it produces wands of cinnamon-coloured fertile fronds in springtime that shoot straight up from the centre of the arching clump. This protective canopy of shiny, deep-green fronds offers shade and safety to wildlife like amphibians and small birds.
Look around in the same areas for Sensitive Fern. A common neighbour of Cinnamon Fern, it likes the same damp but well-draining type of home. It’s a spreading fern that can create large colonies in ideal conditions. The name comes from the early deciduous character of its broad, apple-green fronds, which are the first to succumb to autumn frosts. In the moist shade garden it contributes a refreshing bright-green groundcover element.
Looking beyond the ditches and into forested places is where the other most regularly seen in my neighbourhood is found. Intermediate Wood Fern is evergreen, so around here it’s most likely the one seen during winter walks. Also known aptly as Fancy Wood Fern it produces a vase of lacy, three-times divided fronds. Adapted to a wide variety of sites, it grows quite happily in our rocky, sometimes dry “soil.” Intermediate wood fern makes a beautiful specimen in shady to semi-shady mixed plantings.
In another post I’ll introduce some of the other ferns I’ve met in my neighbourhood.
In the meantime, grab your camera or smart phone when you’re going for a walk and learn more about who the ferns are in your neighbourhood. Happy Ferning!