Regular readers of Roundtop Ruminations know that I’ve spent my most of my Thursdays since the start of the summer taking groups of kids from an adventure camp into the woods to show them interesting things in the forest. It wasn’t just the kids that found interesting things, I found some things I didn’t know were here either.
Today’s photo is one of them. It’s a northern maidenhair fern, also called five-finger fern, the first I’ve ever seen in these woods in nearly 20 years of living here. I dutifully showed it to each group of kids and told them it was the first one I’d ever found here. They were not completely impressed. To these suburban kids, finding, picking and eating one tiny black raspberry was far, far more exciting than some ratty old fern.
Of course, at the beginning of the summer, this "ratty old fern" didn’t look quite as ratty as it does today. While I was hiking with the kids, I didn’t take my camera, so it was only this past weekend, now that camp is over, that I got to make a trip into the woods on my own, with camera. Part of the reason I was so surprised to find the fern here on my first trip into the woods with the kids is that where I found the fern on Roundtop is pretty far from the fern’s optimal habitat.
Maidenhair ferns favor rocky ravines, preferably ones with at least a seasonal stream running down the ravine. Moss-covered banks, stream, splashing water, rocks, that kind of thing. This particular fern is mere inches from the edge of a woods road, still well up on the mountain, with no ravine or stream in sight. I feel a little sorry for the plant. The only true part of this plant’s favored habitat that matches where it sits on Roundtop is that the plant likes limestone and limestone soil and rich deciduous woods. We’ve got that part here.
The plant has been reported in every county of Pennsylvania, so it’s not uncommon in and of itself. I have looked for it when I fern-gaze down along the banks of Beaver Creek that flows between Roundtop and Nell’s Hill. That area is fern heaven and far more closely fits the maidenhair’s preferred habitat. Funny, that I’ve never found one down there, but here one is up on the side of the mountain.
Between this plant’s chosen site and the marginal habitat on which it sits, I’m more than a little surprised it has survived the summer so far. I was actually tempted to take some water along on Sunday and see that it got a nice watering, but a little rain on Saturday night doused the forest enough that I didn’t.
For me, finding a maidenhair fern here on Roundtop was a big thrill, if not for the kids. It really beats those ratty old black raspberries by far.