Stunning cinnamon ferns

The cinnamon fern is named for the fuzzy, reddish-brown stems that emerge in the spring after the green foliage. (Courtesy Photo)

Found frequntly in boggy areas from Ontario to Florida and known to reach heights of nearly 6 feet under ideal growing conditions, the native cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomea) is one of the area's most stunning and unusual ferns.

The cinnamon fern is named for the fuzzy, reddish-brown stems that emerge in the spring after the green foliage. Unlike other types of fern, which have reproductive spores on the undersides of their leaves, the cinnamon fern bears its spores from these separate "fertile fronds" that stand erect in the center of the plant like furled cinnamon sticks.

Once classified in the same genus as the royal fern (Osmunda regalis) and the interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana), cinnamon fern was reclassified into its own genus after recent research showed it to be genetically distinct. Cinnamon fern is considered among botanists to be a living fossil, as it survives today virtually unchanged from fossil records which date it back 75 million years.

In Frederick County, cinnamon ferns can be found growing in areas with consistently moist, slightly acidic soils, preferring partly shady sites in forests and along roadside ditches. White-tailed deer relish the new fiddleheads when they emerge in spring, and a wide variety of animals utilize the fern for shelter and cover, including chipmunks, toads, shrews, salamanders, northern bobwhites and black rat snakes. With some extra sunlight, they are easily capable of achieving statuesque heights.

In the home garden, cinnamon ferns make an architectural statement provided with adequate moisture to hold them through the hot months of summer. In the fall, the foliage turns a bright yellow, dying back completely into dormancy after the season's first frost.

Michelle Donahue contributed this article.

Nature Notes – 6/17/2012