Thursday, June 24, 2010

Christmas Fern

When the summer temperatures climb into the nineties, it’s nice to retreat into a cool, shaded hollow. Blue Jay Barrens has several places that, due to a combination of topography and vegetation, are much cooler than the surrounding area. These areas also provide ideal growing conditions for Christmas Ferns, Polystichum acrostichoides, one of my favorites. In this spot, there’s even a misshapen tree that forms a natural recliner for those times when you just want to lean back and relax.

Christmas Ferns take on several forms during the year. During the late spring it acts like an upright fern with shiny light green leaves. When autumn approaches, the leaves will be a much darker green and will begin to sprawl close to the ground. Leaves will stay green all winter and will not begin to die until the next year’s growth is underway.

The stocking shaped leaflets of the Christmas Fern are quite distinctive. Some leaves grow longer and narrower and beneath the leaflets are rough brown patches. These are the fruiting bodies that produce spores. The light weight spores float on the wind and blanket the countryside. Only a few of the millions of spores will alight in a location suitable for development and growth into a new plant. The pattern of these fruiting bodies is often a key characteristic in the identification of ferns, so when looking at ferns, it’s always a good idea to flip a few leaves and look beneath.

While searching for a good area to photograph leaflets, I noticed a bird dropping that look suspiciously like something alive. I thought it might be a larva that mimicked bird droppings. I decided to use that little stick to the right and poke the larva to see what kind of reaction I would get.

It turns out that I was completely fooled here. The stick turned out to be an inch worm type larva that just looked like a stick. The thing I thought was a larva was actually a bird dropping. The dropping wasn’t typical, though. It looks like part of an earthworm that may have been the intended meal for a nestling. It just shows that the closer you look, the more you’re going to see.


  1. ""It's not nice to fool Steve"":} That fern must be what we have here..I did not know the name of it...I like it because it is green all winter long!! Raccoons left about 2 weeks ago...I kept forgetting to let everybody know...looked one day and they where gone!!

  2. grammie g - You're probably right. I bet you do have Christmas Ferns. Raccoons are like cats, they don't bother with good-byes.

  3. I started reading this post with a sigh, thinking "ferns, yet another thing I don't know nearly enough about" - but once you mentioned the stocking-shaped leaves I was very pleased to realize that I am indeed familiar with these, although I didn't have a name for them before! Lovely, as always.

  4. Steve, I've been way behind on reading your posts, I'm sad to say, so I'm enjoying getting caught up. Had to comment on this one, though, because I really enjoyed the fact that what you thought was a mimic was really poo - and what you thought was just a stem actually ended up being a mimic. The defenses that bugs have evolved is amazing as I read more and more about such things. There is just such an endless supply of things out there to occupy our attention, and I really appreciate you bringing so much of it to light. Yours is a standard that I look up to and hope to some day match.