Wetland Wonder: Cinnamon Fern

Cinnamon Fern Fiddleheads

This is how Cinnamon Ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea) start. The furled leaves are tightly wrapped in shapes resembling the heads of fiddles — hence the term, fiddleheads, to describe just-emerging ferns. I took this photo on April 1, and I’ve been watching all month as the fiddleheads unfurled to reveal fronds.

I’ve always loved Cinnamon Ferns. These wetland beauties can be found in the Piedmont, and in areas east and west of that region. Give it moisture, and it will thrive. Give it moisture and sun, and it will grow enormous — four, even five feet!

The ferns in these photos were growing in my shady wetland when we moved here. They usually reach about three feet in height. Their fibrous root systems have created their own little hummock that stands just above the water line when the area floods.

Cinnamon Ferns are named for their fertile spore-bearing fronds. Unlike many other ferns, which produce spores on the backs of their fronds, Cinnamon Ferns put all of their spores on special fronds that turn a warm cinnamon brown when the spores mature. It really does look as if the frond is covered in cinnamon.

Here’s one of mine a couple of days ago:

Cinnamon Fern with spore-bearing fronds visible

The green fronds will continue to expand as summer progresses. The fruiting fronds will soon wither and disappear, the spores dispersing into the wetland. These tall ferns add quite a bit of drama  to any moist area; they don’t need to be in standing water to be happy.

My Cinnamon Ferns are the first of my native wetland plants to welcome springtime, but they aren’t alone. The Atamasco Lilies and Jack-in-the-Pulpits are starting to show early flowers, and the leaves of Lizard’s Tail and Jewelweed are popping up everywhere.  I’ll show you each one as it reaches its peak of wetland fabulosity.

I will never understand why people drain wetlands. A healthy wetland like mine is not only packed with gorgeous ferns and wildflowers, it provides habitat for frogs and other water-lovers, and it filters run-off before it reaches my creek, reducing the creek’s sediment and pollution load.

And one more bonus for summer nighttime lovers — the larval stage of fireflies (lightning bugs to us southern folk) require moist soil — the kind of moist soil wetlands offer in abundance. I cannot begin to describe adequately the wonder of watching thousands upon thousands of fireflies as they begin their summer nighttime dances in the shrubs, gradually rising to flicker among the branches of the tree canopy.

Who needs stars when you can watch the blinking lights of fireflies as they dance to the thrum of cicadas on sultry summer nights — all thanks to a healthy wetland presided over by statuesque Cinnamon Ferns?

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  1. Belle of the Wetland: Atamasco Lily « Piedmont Gardener
  2. Wetland Preacher: Jack-in-the-Pulpit « Piedmont Gardener
  3. Flowers come and (mostly) gone « Piedmont Gardener
  4. Current Bloomers « Piedmont Gardener

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