We all know them. Those lovely green plants with beautiful names like Lady fern, Christmas fern, Cinnamon fern, Maidenhair fern etc.
A member of the Pteridophyta family, ferns have roots, stems and leaves but are without flowers and seeds. All ferns produce spores as a method of reproduction.
About 240 million years ago, ancestors of our modern horsetails, clubmosses, ferns and cone-bearing trees grew together in vast swamps. There were seed-bearing ferns, now extinct, which grew to the size of forest trees. Their remains accumulated to form thick mats of plant debris. These deposits of vegetation from the past form the coal beds of today.
After being asked to lead a walk at the Jim Baillie Nature Reserve near Uxbridge Ontario, I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be much of a leader if I couldn’t differentiate the many species of ferns that grow in this wonderful hardwood swamp area.
I then decided to visit the Jim Baillie area as many times as possible starting about 6 weeks before my scheduled July walk date. Included in my knapsack were a 10 power lens and my three fern guides (one of which is in French)…”Matteuccie fougère-à-l’autruche: touffe engerbe; fronds stérile; folioles lobes”…you get the idea.
Then came many hours of sitting on the moist ground, on a fallen tree branch or a tree trunk inspecting every fern (and there are hundreds and hundreds!). During my first visit, I was convinced that I was seeing polypody, New York fern, silvery glade fern and hayscented fern among others. As subsequent visits passed, I started realizing that I wasn’t seeing any of these, but what was I seeing? It became my mission to find something about each species that would guarantee that I was making a correct identification.
And so it became ” look for a particular structure and see if the fern is almost see-through”. If it is, then I am looking at Lady fern. And on and on it went.
And finally, after 13 visits (and help from an expert friend), I was sure that I was seeing the following : Crested fern, Cinnamon fern, Ostrich fern, Sensitive fern, Marsh fern, Lady fern, Spinulose woodfern, Intermediate woodfern, Marginal fern, Bulblet fern, Long beech fern, Oak fern and Royal fern,
It was worth it!!