Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A new discovery

Sometimes a little investigation into the natural world leads to unsuspected and interesting discoveries. Today’s photo is of a long beech fern. This fern is apparently common in Canada and the northern U.S. In the east it’s found down to West Virginia and Maryland, apparently skips over Virginia and Kentucky and then magically reappears in Tennessee and North Carolina. I found this pretty little fern on Sunday when I was down in the woods.

Despite owning several fern identification guides, putting a name to this fern proved more difficult than I expected. To me, the fronds are pretty distinctive and somewhat untypical of the general run of ferns. The fronds are broader than most of the ferns I see, the overall color a paler green, and when I looked closely, I noticed that the last pair of fronds closest to the base were always pointing down at a diagonal. So on the surface it looked as though the ID should be easy.

Partly, my difficulty came from the fern guides themselves. One has photographs but the photos aren’t always great and are even a bit blurry in the close-ups. Another has drawings, and frankly, they all look alike to me. In any event, I eventually figured it out and that’s when the discovery happened.

Yesterday, I posted the photo of the pretty little maidenhair fern that I also found on my walk in the woods. The beech-fern is within a few feet of that fern, and one of the field guides said the beech-fern is often associated with maidenhair ferns. Suddenly, the whole fern picture got a little clearer. First off, that little note helped to confirm the beech-fern identification, and in some ways it also helped clear up the maidenhair fern story. On the surface, the spot where I found the maidenhair seemed an uncharacteristic location for it. But now, learning that it is often found with the beech-fern, which I found in the same spot, the location for the maidenhair must be less uncharacteristic than I first assumed.

All in all, finding these two ferns together forms a tidy little package, all tied up with a bow.

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