Ferns add a touch of freshness and elegance to Nova Scotia’s forest floors in late spring. These beautiful green plants can also be found growing along ditches and in rock crevices.
Ferns first appeared on the planet hundreds of millions of years ago and are still thriving. They reproduce by spores or rhizomes and are quite resistant to disease. Ferns provide the surrounding soil with mineral nutrients while the structure of their rhizome root systems reduce soil erosion. The sensitive leaves of these bioindicators are easily damaged by acid rain.
Even in Nova Scotia’s temperate climate, ferns can grow to several feet in height. Their leaf litter is so great that mounds are often formed in forest areas where they thrive from year to year.
Moisture, shade and acidic soil attract the growth of both ferns and mosses. Polypody ferns, shown above, crop out of rocks near the salt marsh.
In springtime, many people enjoy eating fiddleheads, the shoots of young ferns. Ostrich ferns are especially tasty. However, the safety of bracken ferns, shown above, is questionable. Its consumption has been implicated in cases of stomach and esophageal cancer, especially in Japan where it is widely eaten. Water from sources near growths of bracken ferns is also considered suspect. (For more information on the toxic effect of bracken ferns on water, see The Fatal Fern).
Shaded northern beech ferns, shown above, capture bits of sunlight through gaps in the forest canopy. The effect is enchanting.
In Finland, gathering fern spores on Midsummer’s Eve is believed to give the gatherer the ability to become invisible. Also, if one was to perchance acquire the elusive fern bloom on this special night, one would be able to uncover the treasure hidden beneath the magical lights of the Will o’ the Wisp.
Even if you don’t believe in the magical powers of ferns, or partake of fiddleheads in spring, they nevertheless make a wonderful contribution to the biodiversity of the forest ecosystem.