poetry and prose about place

making friends with the ferns #3

with 6 comments

Although the fiddleheads of the Ostrich Fern are edible and a delicacy in New Brunswick, all fiddleheads are not edible.  The fiddlehead is the tightly-rolled, earliest emergence of the immature fern leaf.  This coil of the leaf resembles the head of a fiddle, hence the name.  As time passes, the fiddleheads uncoil and become the mature leaves of the fern.

In the Grey Woods, we have two species of fern with very distinctive fiddleheads.

The fiddleheads of the Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis L.) are slim and red.  They are not edible and are poisonous to horses.

red fiddleheads of the Sensitive Fern are hard to see against the dried leaf layer

The Sensitive Fern grows at the edges of the Grey Woods, along our house foundation and in a large patch on our ‘lawn’.

The common name ‘sensitive’ refers to the fern’s characteristic dying at the first frost.  The Sensitive Fern is also called the Bead Fern, a reference to the hard brown spore cases on the fertile spikes.  Once the green leaves have died, only the tall brown fertile spikes remain, and these persist until spring.  The Sensitive Fern is a once-cut  fern (the leaves are cut once into simple leaflets) with wavy margins and sometimes deep indentations in the leaflets.  The upper leaflets are ‘winged’ or ‘webbed’ where they join the main axis of the plant.

The fiddleheads of the Cinnamon Fern occur in clumps and are densely covered with coarse white hairs.  The fiddleheads can be eaten but are not used as commonly as those of the Ostrich fern.

the wooly fiddleheads of the Cinnamon Fern are common in wet woods in New Brunswick

The Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea L.) grows in wet woods and other water-logged areas.  In our Grey Woods, it grows in the fern gully (see the ‘map of the grey woods’ under ‘about‘).

Cinnamon Fern is a twice-cut fern (the leaves are cut into leaflets and these, in turn, are cut into sub-leaflets).  As the sterile leaves expand, you can see fine cinnamon-colored wooly hair along the stalk, and tufts of cinnamon-colored hairs on the underside and at the base of each leaflet.  The plant produces separate fertile spikes that turn cinnamon-brown in color.





thin music in the May-woods,

trowie tunes from the peerie folk,

a bridge between spring

peepers and the wind,

fiddleheads carved in

Sensitive red and Ostrich green,

the bow strung by spiders,

the riff in the violin trembles

as potential uncoils,

music befuddled in a web

of Cinnamon wool



©  Jane Tims  2012

1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

6 Responses

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  1. Jane, I love your quotes around ‘lawn’. We have the same type! I also love ‘thin music in the May-woods’, but then I also love the spider and violin lines! Well done. Thanks, Jane


    Jane Fritz

    May 31, 2012 at 11:15 am

    • Hi Jane. Thanks for your specific comments… it helps to know what ‘works’. The ‘lawn’ gets mowed twice a year if it needs it, and is mostly haircap moss, purple violets, white violets and something belonging to the mint family. Oh yes, and a little grass. I love it. Jane


      jane tims

      May 31, 2012 at 3:27 pm

  2. I like all the musical imagery in this poem and especially the line-
    trowie tunes from the peerie folk.
    Great post.


    Carol Steel

    May 30, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    • Hi. Thanks. I will include some photos of the mature plants in future. Jane


      jane tims

      May 30, 2012 at 3:28 pm

  3. Again, what a lovely, structured, informative post Jane. Very well done.



    May 30, 2012 at 7:01 am

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