Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fumbling with Ferns

Currently, I am as interested in the ferns I’m now seeing around the cabin as I was with the fungus I saw a few months ago. Like the fungus, identifying ferns isn’t an easy task either. Let’s start with the ferns themselves. There are over 20,000 species. So the fieldguide isn’t likely to be something you can toss in your back pocket. You may need to buy a llama to carry that one around for you.

Narrowing a fern down to its family is (usually) easier. After that it gets messy. Let me give you an example. In the Dryopteris family of true wood ferns, three choices are the most likely in the woods around me—Intermediate, Spreading and Fragrant. In order to decide which of those might be the fern you see in today’s photo, the three species are separated by looking at the "first downward pointing secondary leaflet (basiscopic pinnule) on the lowest primary leaflet (basal pinna)." Then after you’ve found that first downward pointing etc., you have to look at the size and width of it as well as how it’s attached to the first upward pointing subleaflet. Okay, maybe I’ll try that tomorrow.

Then there’s the problem of the fieldguides. They ain’t cheap. They ain’t new, either, for the most part. At least, not for the ferns around Pennsylvania. I found one that sounded ideal, but it was $85. I found another that sounded good, it was $35. Another was printed in 1915 and yet another in 1937. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

The internet offered some help, though not on a par with bird or flower identifications. Here’s a link to a page that contains several good links to more pages with some fern identification information.

5 comments:

Cicero Sings said...

Ferns, Mosses and Lichens ... very tricky to identify! I just bought a book for our end of the world. However, the more I read, the more I find the prospect of identifying these things a little overwhelming ... especially for me, a novice!

Cathy said...

Yikes $85 for a guide! That's too much money.

I have a ton for ferns up here and the deer don't really eat either. I get a chuckle with the top of the fern. Reminds me of a christmas tree.

pablo said...

I have a fern guidebook that I really thought was deficient because none of the illustrations was in color. Then I realized that since nearly all ferns (in my area) are the same green color, colored illustrations wouldn't help.

Dana Jones said...

Your woods look just like mine did only a few weeks behind. The frogs are croaking so loud they sound like geese flying over head!

Carolyn H said...

Cicero: I guess there's no guidebook that can do justice to 20,000 species. i'm just IDing as best I can, which isn't as good as I'd like.

Cathy: I think "Yikes" was the word I used, too. I think the man who wrote the book self-published. The $35 guide is from a university press, but it's still too expensive.

Pablo: I do have one fern guidbook, but there's no range maps! And it's drawings, not photos, but the worst part is the lack of range maps.

Dana: I think my woods is pretty close to being as lush as it's going to get.

Carolyn H.