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Northland Nature: Wood ferns stand out in November forests

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

long stem with green leaves on forest floor
A wood fern in the forest in early November. Note the frond is green when other ferns have faded.
Contributed / Larry Webver
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Walking the woods of November is always a delight. On these “AutWin” days, there are no leaves on the trees and the snow has not yet coated the ground. And insect companions of the summer are no longer with us. The trek is easy. Despite the gray and bland appearance that is often associated with this month, I find that time here is very interesting.

Green and recently colorful leaves of the deciduous trees have fallen and now their foliage covers the forest floor. Most tree trunks look gray-brown, almost black. This monotonous pattern does not extend throughout my walk. There is plenty more to see.

It seems like on nearly all of the trees, there are patches of gray, bluish and green, even some yellow as lichens thrive in such a setting. Growing for many years, these plants of various kinds and colors will survive the coming winter, right out in the weather.

Also on many tree trunks, stumps and downed logs are growths of shelf fungi. Unlike the related mushrooms, they are perennials and I expect to see them in these sites all winter. But there is much green here, too.

Scattered among the deciduous trees are conifers. With the exception of tamaracks, they still hold their green leaves (needles). Looking beneath the trees, I note the abundance of another ever-green plant. Much smaller, but more common, are the growths of mosses. They seem to cover the base of nearly every tree and more. Logs, rocks and even on the ground itself, these tiny leafy plants show their greening.

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To many of us, all mosses look the same — little green stuff. A closer look shows variety in size, shape and branching leafy stems. Several (maybe even many) different species are in these woods.

Nearby are some clubmosses. Also called princess pine, ground pine, ground cedar or lycopodium, they are not mosses, but growing taller, maybe 6 inches, and covering vast areas. They are cousins of ferns.

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

Some of the wildflowers of earlier this year have kept their green leaves. I’m reminded of spring when I see hepatica still with green leaves. Two summer blooming flowers are here, too: pyrola and wintergreen. The latter is also holding red berries. But it is some ferns that stand out now.

During the summer, the woods held a variety of these leafy feathery green plants, many up to 5 feet tall. I had to walk through growths of ostrich, interrupted and lady ferns. Smaller, but also abundant, are the bracken and sensitive ferns. Cinnamon ferns were in wet sites. And at a few locations, I noted the presence of the delightful maidenhair ferns. With the onset of shorter cool days, their green fronds faded and now most appear as just brown or dark stalks, except for wood ferns.

long stem with green leaves grows on forest floor
A wood fern in November.
Contributed / Larry Weber

Wood ferns (Dryopteris) were here all summer. Fronds may be 2 feet tall, but with the presence of many ferns, they got overlooked. However, when the fronds of the others faded, those of wood ferns kept their green colors. And now as we walk through these “AutWin” woods, we see many of these green ferns standing out among the faded ones.

Plants continue to be green as we enter the snow season. Even when covered with snow, they will keep this color, but they are not true evergreens and when snow melts in spring, we’ll note that fronds wood ferns will also fade.

Now, as November unfolds, green wood ferns are appreciated and add to the scene.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber
MORE BY LARRY WEBER
Retired teacher Larry Weber, of Barnum, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods" and “Spiders of the North Woods," among other books. Reach him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
Retired teacher Larry Weber, of Barnum, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods" and “Spiders of the North Woods," among other books. Reach him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
Retired teacher Larry Weber, of Barnum, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods" and “Spiders of the North Woods," among other books. Reach him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
Retired teacher Larry Weber, of Barnum, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods" and “Spiders of the North Woods," among other books. Reach him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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