Camp Salmen is host to many distinguished plant species. Some are notable for their beauty, others appreciated for their uniqueness, and a few are respected for the huge amount of time their kind have been on the planet. Ferns do all these things and deserve our admiration.
Ferns emerged in history over 400 million years ago, about two thirds of the way back to the beginning of complex life forms on the planet. Their great heyday was the Carboniferous Period when they were the dominant plant on the land, some growing to the size of trees. They were so abundant and happened to decompose and fossilize in such a way as to be largely responsible for the world's thick coal seams - which are now being mined for energy and greenhouse gasses.
It's amazing how so much of the distant past remains with us here at Ole Camp Swampy. Along with the ferns, there are Magnolia trees, alligators, primitive gar fish from the Dinosaur Age and simple cyanobacterial slime puffs, the crude Nostoc Communes found on our wet, winter lawns that go half way back to the formation of the Earth 4.5 billion years ago. There is something noble about a fellow life form sticking it out through so many worldwide extinction events and all of the episodes of Laverne and Shirley.
The fern's beauty is self-evident; light green patches of them occur picturesquely in our shady woods. Their delicate fronds tell whether they are Royal ferns (Osmunda regalis) or Wood ferns (Thelypteris kunthii), the two most common species in the park. New stalks emerge and uncurl in spring in a dainty and eerie looking embryonic structure called a fiddlehead. (In a bizarre turn, fiddleheads are known to be gathered by nature-obsessed gourmands and eaten in salads.) Gardeners who prefer a natural look around their home plant ferns or decorate by putting them up in bushy, hanging flowerpots. Once established in the woods, depending on the species, they may freeze and brown in winter but will always return green and vibrant in the spring.
Because they were part of the early experiments of plant life, when Earth was only partially evolved to what it is now, ferns retain what seems like a strange reproductive strategy from a more primitive, almost alien time. Instead of flowers and seeds like more modern plants, ferns propagate with the use of tiny spores. These spores are held in tiny sori, small dark brown dots arrayed on the underside of the fronds. When the time is right, these spew forth as dust, just like in Star Trek, but without the weird “sproing” sound effect. This settles and tries to start female and male plants that then attempt to re-take over the world.