Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On the Trail for Ferns

Monday being a national holiday (Emancipation Day, who knew?), I decided to go to Eagles' Nest Lookout and see if I could get spores of Fragrant Fern, Dryopteris fragrans.. This fern is quite rare this far South, occurring only along the rivers and streams branching off the ancient Fossmill Drainage which once drained the enormous Lake Algonquin to the West and North of the Ottawa Valley. It is known to grow on the cliffs of the Barron Canyon, but I have found it on the cliff below the Eagles' Nest Lookout as well.

I grew many small plants of Fragrant Fern two years ago, but only one of them survived the winter of 2009-2010. It is still alive, but very worried. I think I planted all of them in too much shade.

It was a beautiful day for a hike - sunny, not too hot, and a bit of a breeze. The trail I took is called the Manitou Mountain Trail. I don't know if there is a Manitou Mountain, because I've never gone down the trail that far! I get side-tracked by all kinds of interesting things and don't end up going very far. Botanists are people who can spend hours and hours in the woods.... and travel all of 30 feet. Not this time, though. I went as far as the giant dead maple which marks my place to head up into the rockfall area, and once up there, I followed the cliff edge looking for Fragrant Ferns.

And found them this time! I tried a few weeks ago but headed up towards the cliff at the wrong place and wasn't able to reach ferns. The rockfall below the cliff, which consists of boulders the size of small apartment buildings, is impossible for me to cross at one point, and if I don't go up to the cliff beyond that point, then I can't get to the ferns. As you can see, they grow in cracks and crevices in the cliff wall. They are right out in the open, facing pretty well due West. It was while I was looking up at them and thinking this that I realized it was pretty smart to go look for them in the morning because the sun was still over the other side of the cliff and I was nicely in the shade!

The ferns looked reasonably good. I found a few plants that looked the worse for wear, maybe only a couple of small fronds left, but others were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I had a bit of a struggle getting close enough  to a plant to inspect a frond to see if there were any ripe spores, but by dint of digging my toe into a crevice and clinging to a (rather bend-y) cedar, I got up there. Yes, there were ripe spores! I grabbed one frond and fell, not gracefully, back to the path. Success!

After that I sat on one of the huge fallen boulders, feet sticking out over about 200 feet of empty, and ate my lunch.

The way back to the truck was pretty interesting too. First I wandered a bit further up the main trail. The normally swampy bit that had been  under about 3 feet of water in the spring was now so dry I could walk around in it. That was fun. There was absolutely nothing growing there except some Sensitive Ferns and some sedges; I guess the flooding killed off all the other stuff. Going back, the far end of this swampy area narrowed into a bit of a stream bed. Since it seemed to go more or less in the right direction, I stayed in it. Easy walking! Then I saw that there was a long low ridge of quite mossy rock to my left and I climbed up to take a look.

To my delight, I found quite an extensive colony of Maidenhair Spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes. Here's a close-up of this charmer:

I've seen this before, but a bit further West in a place I can't easily get to on my own, so I am very happy to know there are some at Eagles' Nest. It's  fronds are only about 6 to 8 inches long, each pinnule maybe less than an inch long. The spores are microscopic. I do have it growing well in my garden, from spores from the Black Donald Lake population, but I took a frond with ripe spores anyway. More genetic diversity will be my excuse.

And yes, I did see an eagle.


  1. Have never tried growing ferns from spores, you are a real botanist! Were you by yourself, sounds a bit dangerous, but glad you found what you wanted.

  2. Hi Pauline,

    Yes, I was alone, and it is a bit dangerous but there are often rock climbers around. And sometimes my cell phone works there, too. Don't worry, I'm an experienced hiker.

    Growing ferns from spores is lots of fun! I'll talk about that soon and show how I do it. Easy!