When we first started coming to Maine, I was amazed to find that it had fern-filled forests (try saying that three times fast). I had always associated ferns with warm, wet climates a lot closer to the equator, but that was clearly wrong. Ferns thrive throughout Maine and are found pretty much everywhere — including outcroppings of ferns at multiple locations in our down yard, one of which is shown in this photo.
Ferns are part of a plant group called Pteridophytes, which is one of the oldest plant groups in the world. They first emerged about 300 million years ago, which is why you often see colossal ferns depicted in illustrations of dinosaurs. Ferns thrived during the warm, wet age of the dinosaurs, but they are also suited to wetter places like Maine because moisture is essential to their reproductive process. Having no flowers or pollen for helpful bees to spread, they depend on the exchange of spores to reproduce. There are lots of different species of ferns in Maine, including several clearly different varieties. with different kinds of fronds, in our yard. I think our largest plants, like the ones shown in the photo, are “ostrich ferns,” which emerge as little fiddleheads, but distinguishing between the species requires an expertise and attention to subtle differences that I just don’t have.
I like the look of ferns and am happy to have them in our yard. They grow in clumps that wave lazily in the breeze blowing in from the harbor, and present with lots of different shades of green depending on the angle of the sunlight. They’re a lot more attractive than the weeds that would be growing there otherwise, and they are hardy plants that really don’t require much care after they have taken root. I’m trying to help a little patch that has started up in one rocky, out of the way part of the yard, and basically I’m just going to water it and circle it with stones to protect it from the weedwhacker.
I also like ferns because deer apparently don’t care for them. The ever-hungry neighborhood deer might gnaw the tops off every flower that is ready to bloom, but they leave the ferns alone. Ferns . . . those, I think I can safely grow.