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Posts Tagged ‘Evergreen Ferns’

Last weekend I hiked an old class 6 road for several miles. Here in New Hampshire a class 6 designation means that the road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town and it could be rough going. Class 6 roads are also subject to gates and bars. This one might have been an old logging road or a road between towns long ago.

A lot of the hike was uphill.

There was a nice stream running alongside the road that looked like a good place to fish for brook trout. I wish I could show this spot to my father-he used to love fishing in places like this.

A deer had walked the road not too long before I did. This area is really out in the middle of nowhere so I’m sure many  different animals live here.

Since it was hunting season I wore a fluorescent yellow hat so people with guns could see me.

I saw some beaver ponds than I plan to re-visit next spring-several areas looked like prime orchid habitat. This beaver dam was about as high as I am tall and was holding back a very large amount of water. If it had let go while I was taking this picture I probably wouldn’t be writing this post. The largest beaver dam ever found is in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park and spans about 2,800 feet. It has taken several generations of beavers since 1970 to build and it can be seen from space. Imagine how much water it is holding!

I saw some nice beard lichen, as well as many other types. I think this is bristly beard (Usnea hirta.) According to my lichen book, studies have shown the usnic acid found in these lichens has antibiotic properties and, in some cases, is more effective than penicillin in treating burns and wounds.

I also saw some pinkish brown jelly fungus. Some types of this fungus are called wood ears because they resemble an ear. They can fruit throughout winter and it is said that they are edible but have little to no flavor. Why, I wonder, would someone bother to eat something that had no flavor? Especially something that might make them sick.

I saw witch’s butter, which is a yellow to pink to reddish orange or orange jelly fungus, growing on a plank that was part of an old wooden bridge that crossed the stream. I think this one might be an apricot jelly (Tremiscus helvelloides.)

Lemon drops (Bisporella citrina) are another type of fungus. These were so bright against this dark stump that it looked as if there was a spotlight on them. These start life as either flat disks like those in the photo or round orbs. As they age they turn more cup shaped. They are usually very small but grow in large groups.

These bracket fungi were brick red and a bit shriveled. I can’t seem to find them in any of my mushroom books.

I saw a tree that was trying to eat its neighbor.

Another tree had the biggest burl I’ve ever seen on it. This must have been at least 2 feet from top to bottom.  A wood turner could make quite a bowl from this one.  Burl grain is dense, deformed, and very hard, which is why it makes such a good material for bowls. Burl wood was a favorite of Native Americans, who used it for bowls, cups, and other objects.

I saw many evergreen ferns including intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia,) which I think this is. These ferns look much more fragile than evergreen Christmas ferns.

I think my favorite part of this hike was sitting beside still pools like this one, hearing nothing but beech leaves rattling in the wind. The serenity made the 6 hour walk even more worthwhile.

To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty . . . it beholds every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks for stopping by. Remember-there are hunters in the forest.

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The last entry in this trio of forest dwelling, evergreen ground huggers is the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides.) It seems odd to be walking through the late fall forest litter of brown leaves, or maybe several inches of snow, and suddenly come upon a green fern, but this fern stays green right through winter. Only when the new fronds, or fiddleheads, appear in spring do the previous season’s fronds turn yellow and then finally brown. The dead fronds then form a mat around the living fern that helps prevent soil erosion. 

One odd thing about the Christmas fern is the shape of its fronds, which start off narrow at the base, widen in the middle, and then get narrow again at the tip. Most ferns have fronds that taper gradually; widest at the base and narrower towards the tip. 

Throughout most of the year the Christmas fern looks much like any other fern; an upright  clump of shiny, deep green, one to three foot, rather thick, leathery fronds, but after a good freeze the fronds all bend at the base and lie flat on the ground. If it snows heavily they can be hard to spot and since few animals eat this fern, once it gets completely buried under snow it usually stays that way until spring. 

From June to October spore bearing “fruit dots,” called sporangia develop on the undersides of the leaflets nearest the tip of the frond. Christmas ferns reproduce by releasing spores or by underground stems, (rhizomes) and can form large colonies under optimum conditions. I recently saw a sunny embankment along an old dirt road that had hundreds of them on it. Usually though, it’s more likely to see only one or two in any one place. 

Native Americans used the Christmas fern to treat chest ailments like pneumonia and to relieve flu symptoms. One story says that the name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations. Just as plausible to me is that a fern that was still green at Christmas might be called Christmas fern, but this trait isn’t unique; there are at least 15 evergreen ferns known throughout the world. 

Christmas ferns do well in moist, well drained soil that is rich in organic matter and will do well in shaded garden beds. Once it becomes established it can take quite a lot of dryness. Christmas ferns are easily found for sale commercially and should never be taken from the wild.

 

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