Posts Tagged ‘ferns’

A Winter’s Trail

11 January 2020

After a short hiatus in my weekly bike rides, due to threat of rain, I returned to the trail today.

As the daytime is now once again getting longer, we can imagine a sort of “walking backwards” towards the warmer months ahead.

Geese invade Aquatic Center

This – as I have mentioned in earlier posts – is the wet season. And so, grounds which would ordinarily have little appeal to the likes of geese (who are well known for their love of open lawns) find themselves being pecked at after an early morning rain.

geese at the Aquatic Center

As usual, these birds show little fear beyond a certain desire to stay out of the way.

Wet season plants thrive

The fern fronds last inspected two or more weeks ago now show their spore sacs (sporangia, in the formal neo-Latin so common in the life sciences) more clearly. Their favorite growing places continue to be the rock piles so common along the upper part of the bike path.

fern sporophylls mature

The rocks are also covered by green moss and rather spectacular lichens. When I took the following photo, I thought that the little green branching things in the moss might be its “flowers” (sporophytes), but they appear to be new-growing seed plants.

moss growing among the rocks

The amount of growth in these rock piles is really quite something. What happens to it during the dry months? I don’t remember noticing it at all during the summer. I will have to look more closely this year.

lichen, moss and dead leaves

This almost looks like an underwater scene. These lichen are amazing!

By the way, I recently read an article about lichen – a new discovery concerning the fungal component. It was long thought that lichen consist of one fungus and one alga living in symbiosis. But in at least one lichen, a third organism was found, in the form of a second fungal, but yeast-like, component. This was determined by DNA/RNA analysis, as there is almost no way to detect the two different fungal components visually.

Woodpeckers remain elusive

A little further down the trail, a dead tree stands, proudly remaining erect, but peppered with numerous little holes made by woodpeckers in search of insects. My attempts to photograph these birds have not been highly successful, though they will sometimes at least stay in one place long enough to have their picture taken.

woodpecker on a dead tree

This bird, though obvious enough to the eye, remained in the shade, rendering my image of it less than wonderful. All the little holes stuffed – apparently – with acorns are quite clear in this photo, however. My guess is that the squirrels do that.

Doe, a deer…

Five deer showed up on this trip, all female. They were much further down-river than where I usually see them. These were grazing just outside the fence of a local organic farm (Soil Born), located right next to Hagan Park, an important part of the Rancho Cordova suburban community.

deer grazing next to organic farm

Pond Park, that’s William B. Pond

I usually take my “lunch” break at Pond Park. Technically, it’s a “Recreation Area.” It allows horse riding, fishing, and has multitudes of picnic tables. This park has been here for a long time, judging from the size of its biggest trees. The cottonwoods by my table look at least 150 years old. I can’t find any data on when the park was planted, however.

leaf skeleton

Most of the leaves on the ground look like ordinary dead leaves. But a few of them were just skeletons. I don’t exactly understand how this happened. They could be two-year-old leaves that finally fell off their branches. Or this year’s leaves that just died early and disintegrated on the tree before falling. The patterns are amazing. Very organic, yet with a regularity almost like city streets.

Old trees become fantasy images in a front yard

I had never noticed these before. Perhaps they are new. They are carvings at the tops of dead birch trees. Were they carved in-situ (where they grew)? I sort of doubt it. So perhaps these were created in a studio then installed in this front yard. Great carvings!

Ferns and other unusual plants

28 December 2019
maidenhair fern
Photographed with a Pentax SLR camera on color slide film.

Last week I noted that ferns were springing up along the American River, even though it’s winter. I thought I’d go a little deeper into ferns and other odd plants in this post.

The beautiful symmetry of the maidenhair fern pictured above is unusual even for fern plants. I have always treasured this photo, taken in Ann Arbor when I was in high school, simply for the dramatic pattern displayed by this plant.


I was studying botany at the time, not as a passion exactly, but mostly as a way into the world of living systems and the exhaustive naming and categorization procedures of the life sciences. It had started with a penchant for taking long hikes in then-nearby Bird Hills. I wanted to know what the plants were, so I got into field botany (plant identification). I even did a science project based on it! This park (Nature Area) continues to be maintained by the city and its ecology is probably not that much different than when I lived there in the 1970s.

I found many old books on the subject; most were filled with drawings of plants, which interested me much more than all the theory in the text.

Asa Gray's fern illustrations
Asa Gray’s fern illustrations.

The thing about ferns is that they don’t have flowers and seeds. The leaves hold the reproductive parts, and reproduction is accomplished either on the leaf or on the soil, in the presence of moisture. Once a new plant has started to grow and established itself, the need for moisture may be much reduced, though moist environments are still favored.

And so it is that new fern leaves are sprouting up now, in “winter,” because it is the rainy season.

Typical bracken fern habitat along American River.

These ferns (the “weedy” type known as bracken fern) seem to favor the old rock piles left by the gold miners. These piles of rocks are now 100 to 150 years old, and in the parkland areas have remained largely undisturbed for most of that time.

sun shining through a fern frond, showing the "dots" that can bear spores.
The dots seen on these leaves may develop into spore sacs.

I wanted to get a fern leaf (or frond) with the sun shining through it to emphasize the pattern of spore sacs. By inspection, these have not yet matured on these plants.

Ferns in other places

The common bracken fern lives everywhere around the world, and is the archetypal “fern.” But there are many other ferns. The maidenhair is only one example of how amazing the fronds can look.

My nephew took a trip to Indonesia several years ago and provided the following photos via his blog:

fern of Harau Valley Sumatra
Harau Valley, Sumatra
Fern near Telaga Warna, Indonesia
Near Telaga Warna, Indonesia

There is so much possible variation in this group of plants, as is true of so much of life.

Other interesting plants

pitcher plants
Pitcher plants, Harau Valley

Andy got some great photos on his trip to Indonesia. Pitcher plants grow in many boggy places all over the world, but these are a great example. They are a “carnivorous” plant; they feed on insects that fall into their specialized leaves and get trapped.

Andy with Rafflesia
Rafflesia, plant with largest flower.

Rafflesia, however, is much less common. Andy made an extra effort to find and photograph this specimen is its native habitat. This plant attaches itself to certain vines, then grows this monster flower. It has no stems or leaves.

Another plant that uses other plants to settle on is Spanish Moss. However, it is neither a moss or particularly Spanish. It is a seed plant that grows on trees, probably to obtain more sunlight and avoid getting drowned by floods.

Spanish Moss, Florida
A Spanish Moss growing in Panama City, Florida.

I got this photo while I was visiting Florida as a Volunteer Minister to help with emergency supplies and clean-up after Hurricane Michael.

But for sheer lushness of undergrowth, there is nothing like a young forest’s floor during the warm moist days of a Midwest summer, such as we always experienced in Michigan.

Michigan forest floor
Typical Michigan forest floor, summer.

There are about six different plants in this photo, including the kidney-shaped leaves of Wild Ginger. I’ve never seen a habitat like this in California. Perhaps there are some coastal areas that get close.