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… 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.
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.
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.
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.