Ferns of Grey and Bruce Counties

Submitted by Nikki May

Seven members of Saugeen Nature met at the west parking lot of Kinghurst Nature Reserve on a beautiful late summer day in September. The focus of the outing was ferns, but as usual with naturalists, a variety of other plants and creatures were observed and appreciated.

Ferns are plentiful in Grey and Bruce Counties because of the abundance of different types of natural habitat that remain. Some ferns prefer wetter places, others like to keep their feet dry, and many like the rocky faces and crevices that are found around the escarpment and scattered across our glacier-modified landscape. There are about 50 different species found here, compared to 75 for the whole of Ontario. So Grey and Bruce are great fern destinations for botanists and other nature lovers.

At Kinghurst, the group walked into the woods where the sunlight mottled the forest floor and continued until we found our first specimen. This was Bracken Fern, a large species with 3 similar leafy structures spreading from a single stem. The main structure in ferns is called a frond. Each frond consists of a stalk; the part without leaves, and a blade where the ‘leaves’ are found. Bracken Fern is easy to identify because it has 3 blades rather than just 1 extending from the stalk. It is also very common. It can be found in openings in the forest, at the edges of ponds, or on dry woody hillsides.

Further along the path stood a nice clump of Christmas Fern. This fern typically has a clump of fronds growing from the ground, each with a very short stalk and a long narrow, dark green blade. The ‘leaves’ on the blade are called pinnae, and in Christmas Fern the pinnae are a shiny dark green with little lobes near the axis of the blade, making each pinna look like a little Christmas stocking.

Another easy-to-identify fern was Maidenhair Fern with its triangular pinnae attached to a curving axis. First Nations artisans use these wiry, shiny black ‘stems’ for decoration on birchbark bowls. There are many large stands of Maidenhair Fern in the Nature Reserve.

Kinghurst is also home to one of the largest colonies of Narrow-leaved Glade Fern in Grey County, with its large fronds and simple large pinnae giving the plant a ‘designer fern’ appearance. This glade fern, along with Silvery Glade Fern are both found in picturesque glades at about the centre point of the pathway through the old growth forest in Kinghurst.

On this outing we were able to find about 14 of the 49 ferns found in
Grey and Bruce because the Kinghurst Nature Reserve comprises so many different micro- habitats. There are more to be found here, but the lacy looking Wood Fern species are hard to differentiate, requiring the use of magnifying lenses in some cases. Participants came away with a sense of satisfaction at having learned to identify a few of the common ferns of Grey and Bruce, and with a good understanding of the difficulties of fern identification.

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