Ferns Unfurling


Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis)

The unfurling of fern fiddleheads in spring is one of the things I look forward to every year. To me, each one is a work of art. Above is a lovely reddish-bronze Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) named for its quick demise when touched by frost.

Fiddleheads are perfect examples of a Fibonacci spiral, a mathematical sequence that builds from 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc. Each number is the total of the previous two. The whole Universe can be defined mathematically, the way plants grow, our body works, everything, which I find pretty fascinating. But I digress…IMG_5119 IMG_5120 - Version 2 IMG_5121 Above are several examples of Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana), that start out quite wooly, unfolding into rough, chartreuse clusters of beaded mini-ferns before opening their fronds completely. The name comes from the fertile pinnae that occur about halfway up the stem, which mature and fall off in summer, giving an ‘interrupted’ look to the frond.

IMG_5137Above is an unfurling Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina), a delicate, lovely thing. Have you ever seen such perfection?


Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana)

Even though there is an evergreen Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) frond from last year in the background of the above photo, the white wooly fiddleheads here are Interrupted Ferns. Below are Christmas Fern fiddleheads, which unfurl symmetrically to form large circular mounds.

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Lastly, are Cinnamon Fern fiddleheads (Osmunda cinnamomea), also wooly, but with a reddish-brown tinge to them. Some claim the name comes from the fertile fronds that rise up separately in early summer, looking a bit like cinnamon sticks, but technically, it refers to the brown fibers near the base of the plant.


Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)

Above are our most common woodland ferns, but there are many more that I either didn’t see or missed photographing in the few days when they were emerging. Many make great additions to the garden, preferring shady, moist soil that is rich in humus, like that found in most woodlands.

About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
This entry was posted in Country Gardening, Field Notes, My Photos and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

67 Responses to Ferns Unfurling

  1. Maria F. says:

    What marvels of nature Eliza!

  2. Lovely! So pleased to see your blogs in my email box again. I goofed up the settings and missed out on them for the past few months.

  3. Murtagh's Meadow says:

    You have beautiful ferns, Eliza. It is one plant group I have struggled to learn to identify except for those that stand out like one called the Harts Tongue Fern which is just a flat leaf. Ours too and uncurling but none are as wooly as your Interrupted fern. It looks so soft. Lovely post:)

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thank you so much. I was told by a neighbor that we have 19 different kinds of fern here. I’m no specialist, but I would love to get better at knowing them all.

      • Murtagh's Meadow says:

        wow – 19 that sounds like a lot! Must find out how many we have here in Ireland

  4. LadyPinkRose says:

    Beautiful and awesome, Eliza!!! Amazing Mother is! Thank you for honoring Her, my friend. Thank you. Love, Amy ❤

  5. ladygrace33 says:

    Pretty amazing plant life when you get close too 🙂

  6. arlingwoman says:

    Wow, I never see these any more unless I’m on a walk in the woods at the right time. Such a pleasure to see so many and get their various names. I like the math of it. Perhaps we could almost say the ferns were participating in something like set theory. Lovely and interesting!

  7. mk says:

    Amongst all these, I especially like the Lady Fern. But all of them seem mysterious and magical to me. It feels as if faeries should be hiding nearby.

  8. Sophie says:

    Amazing x thank you! and those facts – fascinating! oh how perfectly the universe has organised itself! xxx

  9. And knowing that ferns already existed in prehistoric times, make your pictures even more fascinating.

  10. Kathy Sturr says:

    I knew I would love,love, love this post! I love ferns – especially unfurling ferns. Some incredible beauties here. My favorite is Maidenhair Fern – her fiddles look like magic fairy wands. I love the woods. You are a lucky woman Eliza, winters aside.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thanks so much, Kathy. Glad you loved it! From now on when I see maidenhair fiddleheads, I’ll think of fairies! 🙂 And yes, I do feel quite blessed, even in winter. ;-D

  11. dorannrule says:

    How beautiful they are. I am going to pay more attention now to the unfurling process, Thank you Eliza!

  12. Jewels says:

    What gorgeous captures of amazing plants! I love watching things unfurl! Thanks for sharing this Eliza, just beautiful…

  13. Your work is always so touching. You have quite the eye, and I enjoyed that you “digressed” Fibonacci numbers. Really great photos!

  14. Cathy says:

    I love your ferns Eliza. I only have ostrich ferns, so it is fascinating to see other types unfurl. Such an array of colours too. Quite remarkable plants.

  15. jesh stg says:

    These unfurling ferns are lovely! Unofortunately he climate in most of California is too dry for ferns to last long.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thank you, Jesh, and welcome! Ferns do require moist, shady conditions for the most part. There are a few that are a bit more drought tolerant like Polystichums and Polypodiums, but still would require shade.

  16. Smitten, absolutely smitten. I had a decent show myself this spring of fiddleheads but don’t have the wonderful variety you do, Eliza. Is there one particular fern which is your favorite? I’m looking to add another. I have autumn, ghost, and Japanese painted.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thanks, Barbara. It would be tough for me to pick a favorite. Hayscented is delicate and lovely, forms beautiful colonies and has nice fall color. Maidenhair have a great form and don’t spread rapidly, if you are looking for something that won’t take over the bed.

  17. Its like they just stretch their little arms to the sun. Great pictures!

  18. Now I want to go figure out what the different types of ferns in my parents’ woods are (as heretofore, they have been known as “ferns”).

  19. Robin says:

    Your ferns are all so beautiful, as are your photos of them. I really like ferns, and often wonder why we don’t have any in our woods here.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thank you, Robin. No ferns? Perhaps it’s too salty?? I would think in deep shade there would be at least a few. Were they picked/harvested perhaps?

      • Robin says:

        No ferns at all in our woods. I don’t know why. The nearby state parks have ferns in their wood so perhaps they were all picked/harvested. We didn’t have ferns in our woods in Ohio, either. Since M and I both like them, we planted some, and they’re doing quite well now. We might do the same here.

      • Eliza Waters says:

        Interesting, I wonder if a local naturalist or botanist would know if they used to be there or become locally extinct millennia ago. They are so ancient a plant, I assumed they grew everywhere except deserts.

  20. What absolutely gorgeous close up shots of your elegant ferns, Eliza. You have photographed them with such love and sensitivity! I love your first shot best, but also the Lady Fern. I photographed our ferns unfolding, but didn’t get nearly so close and clear as you have. Such art- these should be made into prints and framed! Thank you, too, for your mention of the mathematics of it all, which is the fabric of everything. Savoring this post still…. ❤

  21. ladyfi says:

    Those ferns are so lovely!

  22. Rebecca says:

    These are beautiful photos, Eliza. I felt as if I was there watching the ferns unfurl myself … Do you use a particular camera or equipment for close-ups? Your photos are always so gorgeous :).

  23. I just love your pictures! They are a-ma-zing! 🙂

  24. Debra says:

    You have really captured the beauty of these ferns. And it all happens seemingly in a moment so kudos for being present! It is truly awesome ( in the real meaning of that word) that these patterns can be found in the smallest things as well as the mind boggling huge.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      It is astounding that these patterns form the whole universe! It seems so profound to me. Thanks for the like and the thoughtful comments!

  25. Heather says:

    The unfurling ferns are surely a springtime treasure.
    Do you eat fiddleheads? We didn’t growing up, but I’d love to give them a try now. I just never know when the cutoff is between tasty and not, and I’m also not sure which ferns *are* tasty…

    • Eliza Waters says:

      So nice to hear from you! You must be settled in by now?
      Yes, I’ve eaten fiddleheads, but they are not high on my list. I’ll take asparagus instead! 🙂 They must be eaten very fresh, so forget getting them in a store. We have tons of the ‘right’ ones on our land and when I see what they charge in the supermarkets, I think I’m sitting on a goldmine! It is the Ostrich Fern – Matteuccia struthiopteris, smooth green, not wooly, picked just as it is emerging from the ground. They often are covered with golden scales that protected them over winter. Brush these off BEFORE you wash them or you’ll have a mess that doesn’t come off easily. Some recommend parboiling to remove some of the bitterness, but this is something I don’t do because mine are freshly picked. I saute’ them with garlic, butter and miso, which is yummy. Let me know if you try them.

      • Heather says:

        I’m not sure you’ve exactly sold me on them 😉 Asparagus is plentiful around here, and so are morels. Might just stick to those!
        We are settled in now, and really loving the location. Just this week things have calmed down at work, back to usual. Thinking I’ll have more time for creative pursuits in the near future, and you’ll be seeing more of me. Thanks for checking in!

  26. Robbie says:

    beatufiul:-) I dug a bunch out of my yard early spring and placed in my daughter’s yard. She was worried they were dead-lol-BUT when they emerged she said , “Mom they look prehistoric”-LOL. they are so neat + loved your captures!

  27. This was lovely. So glad it was below a recent post. I am fond of fronds.

  28. Jen says:

    Ferns are among my favorites, you photographed them beautifully. 🙂

  29. naturebackin says:

    What a gorgeous post – you have captured so well the magic of that delicate yet robust unfurling.

Comments are closed.