“I really liked the time when we were at the outdoor classroom, discovering what makes ferns special. There were a bunch of different types of ferns and we had to guess what types they were. We got the answers correct and it was super duper fun!” -Eamon’s, 2nd grader from Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden, favorite Four Winds memory

We asked Eamon, what makes ferns special? “The leaves are all different shapes and sizes and they look really cool. Ferns spread through those little brown thingies — oh yeah, spores! — which float in the wind.”

How were Eamon and his classmates able to tell one fern from the other? While the leaves of most ferns have a narrow stem and broad triangular blade, the lacey nature of fern fronds comes from divisions of the blade into leaflets and subleaflets. Some ferns have an “entire” blade, with no divisions or lobes. But in what are called once-cut ferns, the blade is divided horizontally into many smaller leaflets. Twice-cut ferns have leaflets further divided into subleaflets. Thrice-cut ferns are the laciest of all the ferns; every subleaflet is further subdivided into tiny lobes.

Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Entire” Walking Fern
Björn S…, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Once-cut” Polypody Fern
Twice-cut” Long Beech Fern
Thrice-cut” Lady Fern

At this time of year, you may begin to notice ferns browning in the forest and along roadsides, but keep your eye out in winter for evergreen ferns (Intermediate Wood Fern, Polypody, Christmas Fern, and Marginal Wood Fern) whose green foliage remains all year long, even under a blanket of  snow.

Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Christmas Fern under a blanket of snow

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