Except for the conifers, there is very little green growth visible at this time of the year where we live. I miss “green” during the winter months and thus always enjoy heading to more moderate and wetter areas,even in January many plants remain verdant and lush. The North Umpqua River, where these pictures were taken, is one such place where ferns, lichen, mosses, succulents and evergreen shrubs abound throughout the seasons.
One of my favorite ferns is the maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum). Since this fern can be deciduous it might not be as prolific in the winter, but usually can be found. Ferns are interesting plants because although they have a vascular system for transporting fluids and nutrients, like the higher plants, yet they reproduce by spores rather than seeds. Two phases comprise the life cycle of a fern: the gametophyte or sexual stage and the sporophyte or spore-bearing stage. It is the leafy sporophyte stage that we usually see and consider a “fern” while the gametophyte phase remains unobserved.
The maidenhair fern is an easily identified plant with its black stems and fronds that form a horseshoe or circular appearance around the central stalk. Each pinnule (leaflet) is smooth on the lower margin and broken into ragged lobes on the upper margin. On the underside of these lobes are sori (spore cases) containing the spores. The leaf margins inroll and form indusia (additional protection for the sori). The maidenhair fern is found in shady, moist forests and on the banks of streams or the spray zone of waterfalls.
The name maidenhair might derive from the fact that the stems are fine and hairlike or because of its masses of fine, dark root hairs.
The black stems were used by some Native Americans in basketry and the leaves were concocted into a medicine for strength and endurance. European herbalists used this fern to make a cough syrup. I have never ingested maidenhair fern and prefer to simply enjoy its beauty, especially in the dark, gray winter months.