June 7, 2010

A Walk in the Woods: The Shapes of Ferns

Ferns are the stars of the woods right now; with their bright new green leaves growing abundantly on the forest floor, they embody the idea of growth and renewal, and variety, because of their multiple leaf forms and habits. There is a fine toothed fern that spreads in large masses, catching the bright high sun of June, and looking like a soft thick carpet, or a frothy sea, that you can sink down into with pleasure.

I've enjoyed noticing the many different shapes of fern leaves, with edges from smooth to finely cut. The fern in the third image has what I've nicknamed baby-fingered leaves, reminiscent of babies' pudgy small hands. The last photo above is a plant I'd never noticed before; it has such an unusual growth pattern, with leaves spaced out along its narrow stems. Needless to say, I don't know the names of any of these ferns, except for the one below, my favorite, a maidenhair fern. It is beautiful, rising on a thin black stem which spreads into a circular pattern of delicate leaves, each leaf stem showing light black against the green. Touching the leaves is like fingering a very fine piece of silk charmeuse fabric. What a delightful plant!


  1. There is a book by John Mickel — Ferns for American Gardens — that I turn to when trying to i.d. ferns. The differences can be very subtle sometimes. I think that is one of the delights about maindenhair fern; you can recognize it instantly. I have two maidenhairs growing in the garden that are just slightly different from each other; but enough to be noticeable. I also like the fact that though they look delicate, ferns can be very tough and grow in so many conditions.

  2. Ferns are just beautiful...they soften the edge of my garden and add an almost tropical feel to everything....I have a maiden hair by my creek and it is so dramatic and elegant.....

  3. hi Linda and Susan, how nice that you are both fern fans. Ferns sure are tough, as they even grow robustly in my open fields and along stone walls in bright sun. They do seem incongruously tropical, here in the north, and they also make me think of prehistoric landscapes because they're such an ancient plant.

  4. Missed posting my thank you last week:
    The Ferns I dug up from your fields years ago are thriving in my suburban backyard