Article and photos by Donna Iverson
As the sheltering in place order continues to take its toll on our collective psyche, feeling a constant urge to go for long walks in Michigan woods ..to search out and identify Spring Wildflowers and say hello to my favorite ferns.
As you probably have read, the Japanese call this "forest bathing," and there is scientific evidence that being in nature and especially around trees and/or water helps calm the soul. Maybe it's all those negative ions.
But with the stay-at-home order in place, I turn to my local environment for signs of woodland plants and flowers. Less than a block from my front door, I stumble upon wildflowers springing up in the cement cracks. Somehow they symbolize trying to maintain functioning under difficult conditions. Wild violets are tough little beings who survive and even thrive no matter where they land....even in the most seemingly hostile of places. A lesson I am learning to emulate.
On one of my daily ambles through the city, I spy Ostrich ferns growing in a contemplative garden alongside the local Jewish synagogue. On closer inspection, discovered they were just past the fiddlehead stage, which was a disappointment as they are an edible delicacy.
Still I was thrilled to see one of my favorite native ferns which is easy to identify especially when it is full grown as it can reach 6 feet. It's only competitor is the Interrupted Fern which can grow equally as tall. By midsummer Interrupted Fern has a brown patch in the center of the stalk ...hence its name and its identifying tell. So you won't mistake it for Ostrich Fern. Both ferns are native to North America.
Ferns make wonderful additions to a home garden whether it be a native plants garden, a woodland garden, a wildlife garden (they provide shelter for many birds), a rain garden, a shade garden or just a shady spot in your yard.
Ferns have a primitive otherworldly look and are perhaps the oldest plants on the planet, dating back to the Neanderthal era. There are many native ferns to choose from that will grow well in Northern Michigan gardens including Maidenhair fern, Lady Fern, Woodland Fern, Christmas Fern (which is evergreen in winter ..hence its name) and of course, the Ostrich Fern. All can be purchased at garden centers and then propagated by division. Be aware that some are aggressively invasive spreading by underground rhizomes ..especially the Ostrich Fern.
So if you want to bring woodland plants to your yard, consider the native ferns ..they require little maintenance and will provide an unique addition to your environment. You might even harvest a few of those Ostrich Fern fiddleheads come early next spring.