Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fiddleheads announce spring

Finally, something like spring seems to be approaching us in the chilly Mid-Atlantic. I went out to survey what's coming up in the yard and have seen bloodroot, rue anemone, and a few spring beauties blooming.

And there's also my fern nursery. This began as a big planter of ferns, left on the property by the previous owner. The first couple of years I just tried to keep them watered. They seemed to get pretty withered in summer, but came back well in the spring. Knowing little about ferns, I started wondering what kind they were.

I thought at first they were cinnamon ferns, but they never developed the distinctive cinnamon-colored stalk. Now I've identified them as ostrich ferns, Matteuccia struthiopteris. One telling characteristic: the fiddleheads have a groove running down one side of the stalk. A couple of years ago I picked a few fiddleheads and steamed and ate them. Not bad!

But mostly I like to take little clumps of rootstock - they are kind of nobby pieces from which the fiddleheads emerge - and transplant them into the yard. I always leave some rootstock to keep growing in the nursery for next year. The ferns do well in shade or part-shade, though they can take a fair amount of sun if you keep them well watered.

Here they are in a previous year, intermingled with Virginia bluebells.