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Saturday, June 5, 2010: Surrounded by Bracken

This is a fiddlehead fern, probably from an ostrich fern (though at the time I didn’t think to identify the main plant).  I was too delighted to see an unfurling head which truly looked like the scroll of a fiddle and too impatient to capture the image before dusk.  The emerging fern leaf reached out, a dancer slowly opening and spreading her arms to the sky.

This is not the way of Bracken ferns.  Bracken ferns arise out of the ground like a fist.

Their early leaves do not appear as fragile lace, but as sharp teeth. These are the noxious bullies of the fern family.

A true survivor, Bracken ferns show up in fossil records stretching back 55 million years. They are a fire-resistant plant, showing up in burned areas early, then sending out allelopathic chemicals in the soil to suppress growth of new trees and herbs, while quickly forming their own dense colonies. The poisons left in the soil can suppress tree growth for years after fern beds are destroyed.

Bracken surround our cabin. At first, I was delighted to see the lush greenness. My husband fondly reminisced about walking through massive fields of bracken to get down to his favorite trout streams. I laugh now to think how carefully I walked through Bracken stands that first year, concerned that a broken stalk might kill the plant.

I should not have worried. The Bracken come back every year with a dogged persistence. Each year, they enlarge their territory, creeping closer and closer to the cabin, to the plants and shrubs I have transplanted.

Again, I debate with myself. Every creation has the right to live, filling its own nitch in the natural order.  Yet how do you handle a bully? I have decided to cut Bracken ferns back from around certain areas to let other plants grow. Perhaps I will plant wood anemone, one of the few plants said to grow beneath Bracken.

Mostly, I will sit and stare at the knee-deep green canopy. I will debate if I should be letting survival of the fittest take its course, or if I should turn against occasional plants, birds, rodents, so that less-aggressive native species will survive. Since childhood, I have found myself stepping in to protect the weak from the aggressive. It is just in nature, in the wild, that I debate the ethics.

Posted on Saturday, June 5, 2010 at 04:46AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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