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Posts Tagged ‘midsummer’s eve’

sensitive ferns

Sensitive Ferns

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.

Cinnamon Ferns

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.

polypody ferns

Polypody Ferns

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.

Bracken Ferns

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).

Northern Beech Ferns

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.

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elderberry at dawn

Do you have any plans for Saturday night?  Since it will be Midsummer’s Eve, if you’re free, you might consider standing or sitting under an elder tree.   Known as Sambucus nigra in Europe and Sambucus canadensis in North America, it’s not uncommon in Nova Scotia woods where it often only grows to bush size.  It has sprigs of white flowers in early spring that eventually give way to clusters of green and then black berries.  But why would anyone want to stand under an elder tree on Midsummer’s Eve?  According to faerie lore, if one was courageous enough to be under one at midnight, one might be able to catch a glimpse of the King of the Faeries himself.

elder branchesThis special tree has been surrounded by magic and mystery for centuries.  According to legend, the original cross was made of elder wood.  In England, crosses made of elder were nailed to farm buildings to ward off evil spirits.  Hearse drivers carried whips of elder and branches of the same were placed in graves, all with the intent of protecting the living and the dead from evil spirits.  In Serbia, they were carried at weddings for the same reason.

Danish folklore held that the tree was inhabited by a guardian spirit, the Elder Mother, who haunted anyone who dared to cut it down.  Many of these beliefs seem similar to those associated with Rowan trees, which are known as Mountain Ash in North America.

A young elder grows in my yard.  This is a good omen, as it is supposed to flourish near the dwellings of happy people.  Much of the magic associated with this tree is probably due to its many medicinal uses.  It’s easier to be happy if you have good health.

The Elder in Bloom in Early Spring

An Elder in Bloom Earlier this Spring

Getting back to the King of the Faeries… you may be wondering how you’ll recognize him should you decide to venture out under the tree at midnight.  Well, unfamiliar as I am with faeries, I can only go by what little I know of elves and leprechauns from movies.  Meeting the King of the Faeries at a midnight rendez-vous in the woods might be interesting if he looked  like the elf Legolas in Lord of the Rings.  However, it might be an entirely different sort of encounter if he turned out to be more like King Brian from Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People

Legolas (Lord of the Rings) and King Brian (Darby O'Gill and the Little People)

Legolas (Lord of the Rings) and King Brian (Darby O'Gill and the Little People)

If he’s the size of one of the Little People I wonder if I’d even be able to spot him in the dark.  There won’t be much moonlight as the dark side of the moon will be in the sky tomorrow night.  Little People are known for their love of the dance and merrymaking, so listen carefully for music.

Best of luck to any of you who are keen for adventure and willing to try something completely different on Midsummer’s Eve.   Hopefully the mosquitoes won’t be too bad in your neck of the woods.

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