Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Wild Neighbor: Walking Fern

Today's big surprise at Little Pine State Park: walking fern
Upon cresting the hill near the top of of Panther Run Trail at Little Pine State Park we worked our way along a ridge top boulder field, weaving through 300 million year old rocks that were formed during the carboniferous period. These old sandstone and conglomerate rocks comprised of layer upon layer of hundreds-of-millions-of-years-old shallow ocean bottom sediment are now home to diverse communities of mosses, lichens, and ferns (and I understand, in the summertime, timber rattlers).

I have a habit of "geeking-out" a lot when I spend time in wild spaces. Sorry Erin!  In case you're wondering, this means that I have the gift of turning a three-mile hike into a four-hour adventure if you let me as I pause to get excited about every amazing wild neighbor along the trail.

Left to right: Christmas fern, marginal wood fern, evergreen wood fern.
First it was the golden-crowned kinglets foraging among the branches of nearby pines. Then it was three species of evergreen ferns growing in the same two-feet of space providing an incredible comparison of evergreen wood, marginal wood, and Christmas ferns!

In another "geeking-out-on-the-trail" moment, I sat at the base of one of those giant boulder rocks admiring the stratified layers of ancient ocean-bottom sediment and the plants that colonize its surface present day.

Something caught my eye. It was a leaf. Heart shaped at the base with a long narrow tip. I knew I'd seen that somewhere. In a book.

Just two days prior I remember leafing through my fern identification guide, and I recall saying to Erin, "I hope to find a walking fern eventually. It's just that its such a unique species. It says here that they are a rare though, so probably not anytime soon."

She may have responded to me with something along the lines of "you're a rare species."
Walking fern: note heart-shaped base with narrow long-pointed tip.

Regardless, here I was two miles into the woods at the top of a rocky ridge with a small colony of walking ferns clinging to the base and to the side of the sandstone boulder before me. Amazing!

The thing I find most captivating about walking fern is that it has a unique habit of putting down new roots from the tips of its leaves. Over time an old walking fern will develop a spread of long tipped leaves which take root and produce new leaves that reach out even farther all the while remaining connected to the parent plant in the middle. An old-old walking fern would look like a big circle with leaves arched from the middle reaching out in every direction. Pretty cool, right?

I think this particular group of walking ferns might be a young colony since there is not yet any leaf-tip rooting that I could find. Maybe these leaves will be rooting out in the springtime.
Walking fern fertile frond with spores.
For several more minutes I rested in the presence of this very interesting wild neighbor.

I got to reflecting. As so often happens, reflections in wild spaces become reflections on life in general. Here's one of those thoughts.

I noticed that they share this rocky face with polypody ferns, at least three species of mosses (probably more) and at least five species of lichens (again, probably more). Beyond that, from rigetop, to hillside, to stream-cut, to lake far below this whole space is filled with a rich variety of living things. In short, this wild space is shared space.

Speaking of sharing; we teach our children the value of sharing, that there's joy in sharing, and that sharing good things is an expression of love.

Where is the joy in sharing this good earth with as great a variety of other living things as possible?

Go spend a day walking about or sitting in wild spaces and you tell me.

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