Fantastic, Fabulous Ferns and Fronds - Mountain News : Features

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Fantastic, Fabulous Ferns and Fronds

A Mountain Favorite Found in the Wild

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Posted: Thursday, August 3, 2017 11:04 am

The mountain communities of the San Bernardino Mountains are blessed with almost-stereotypical images of ferns growing in moist, shady woodland nooks. If your yard has a shortage of ferns, purchase some from a nursery for an excellent traditional backdrop to your garden. Simply lining garden walkways with sword ferns or bracken ferns will create an enchanting experience for visitors.

Be careful, however, to avoid planting the Japanese climbing fern, mosquito fern, sensitive fern and the giant water fern. These are considered to be noxious weeds, an invasive species.

Ferns feature vibrant, delicate leaves that lend texture and vivid shades of green to any darkly shaded perennial garden. They succeed in places where other plants flounder. They are considered to be especially hardy in marginal habitats that are too shady for flowering plants.

In fact, even though there are 10,560 known species of ferns, they are found in only four particular types of habitats. You can enjoy ferns if you’re living in the acid wetlands of bogs and swamps; sweating among tropical trees; perching upon rock faces where ferns grow in crevices sheltered from the full sun; or thriving in moist, shady forests of mountain elevations.

One fascinating aspect about ferns is that they produce “fiddleheads” that uncoil and expand into fronds. There’s something especially endearing about those coiled-up fiddleheads, as if a patch of ferns could perform like a string quartet making music beneath the trees.

But medicine, rather than music, is the forté of ferns. Many cultures grow and gather ferns for food, as well as medicine. Fern spores are rich in lipids, protein and calories, so some species, including the fiddleheads of bracken ferns, are used for food.

In general, ferns are not known to be poisonous to humans. Especially favored by the natives of the Pacific Northwest, licorice fern rhizomes are chewed for their flavor.

While most people consider ferns to be merely pretty faces — ornamentals providing support and background for bouquets of roses or mixed flowers — others recognize the ability of ferns to remediate soil contaminated by heavy metals, especially arsenic. While enhancing your enchanted garden, ferns are busy purifying the soil and removing certain chemical pollutants from the atmosphere.

By contrast, certain cultures regard some species of ferns as weeds. In the Scottish highlands, for example, bracken ferns are considered to be weeds, despite their nutritional and eco-friendly values.

Groups of ferns known as “true ferns” include most plants that are familiarly known as ferns. Other groups of species are considered to be “fern allies.” Numerous classification schemes have been designed and proposed for ferns and fern allies, but proponents have been unable to gain consensus about them.

People agree, however, that ferns continue to hold a certain fascination and are widely appreciated, long after the famous fern craze of the Victorian era fizzled out. There is even a special word — pteridomania — that describes the affinity for collecting ferns and fern motifs in decorative art. Glass, metals, papers, pottery, sculptures, textiles and wood: All have served as treasures that carry images of ferns, cherished and passed on through generations of families.

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