July 4, 2023

Cinnamon fern.


True life is lived when tiny changes occur.

-Leo Tolstoy


The days have turned cool, with highs in the mid sixties and lows in the high forties to low fifties.  And rain.  But the rain is kind of stuttering — mostly easily avoided and, when not, it’s usually more of a heavy mist than a hard rain.  Waldo likes this cooler weather to walk in and is in his element.  Although now June, the mosquitoes haven’t yet come out in hordes and the worst of the bugs are troublesome gnats.  And ticks, of course.  Waldo likes to wander into the weeds and he picks them up as if advertising for tenants.  Because of his black fur, I can’t see them, but I can feel them when I pet him.  Some of the weeds he brushes up against are poison ivy.  Fortunately, I’m not allergic and have never had a reaction to the stuff.  Yet.

Two days ago, while we were on the rail-trail, I noticed some ferns that had tan stalks stabbing skyward in the middle of their usual green fronds.  They stood out so flagrantly that I was amazed I’d never noticed them before.  Curious, I speciated them on my Picture This app.  Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum), they were.

The plant is perennial and the cinnamon-colored stalks are fertile fronds.  In mid to late spring, the tan spike-like fertile leaves grow in the center of their sterile green brethren. On these spikes are small beady capsules that contain spores.  After the release of the spores, the spikes die back and become inconspicuous.  Today, I can find only a few of the cinnamon-colored stalks.  That explains why I never noticed them before.  The stalks, although easily seen when present, are not present for very long.  If I wasn’t looking at the right time, I would miss them.  I seem to frequently be reminded of how inobservant I can be.

One of the things that I’ve learned to watch out for is the English ivy tree.  While standing out in the deep, hard winter, because it’s one of the rare plants that still has green leaves, in the spring and summer, it’s not so noticeable.  Not only are there leaves everywhere now, the English ivy leaves are obscured by an overgrowth of other vines.  The tree these vines grow on is dead, but it provides a vertical trellis that lifts the plants skyward where their leaves can get more sun.  Even the ivy leaves on the ground are buried by other growing things.

Since the coldest part of the winter when I noticed the English ivy, I’ve also been following the appearance of garlic mustard.  It grows close to the ground and I can find it except in the coldest of times.  In the winter, the leaves are small and their clumps scattered.  Now the leaves are comparatively huge, some more than three times their winter versions.  And it’s present in most places I look — except where invasive weeds like Japanese knotweed has taken over.

Speaking of Japanese knotweed, it has now reached maturity and stands more than ten feet tall.  Its leaves so densely cover their stalks that I can’t see into the thicket of the stuff further than about a foot.  It doesn’t grow everywhere (yet), but where it does, there is almost nothing else growing where it stands.  In late summer, I have seen a bind weed growing in and over its top, but it’s not prolific.  Clumps of Japanese knotweed, tens of feet deep, grow in long hedges that parallel the trail for hundreds of feet.  I worry about it someday taking over the entire trailside, but it’s not close to doing that yet.

It may be my imagination, but it seems to me that there aren’t as many sticks around the trail as there used to be.  Poor Waldo is often reduced to picking up the tiniest of twigs to carry around.  Can it be that Waldo has been so efficient at stalking and herding the native sticks that he’s cleaned the place out?  I doubt it.  After all, he doesn’t move them somewhere else, he just carries them around for a while, then drops them at his feet.  It’s been some time since he grabbed one end of a long branch and dragged it down the trail, though.

All this points to something the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: “The only constant in life is change.”

And life goes on…


The English ivy tree is covered by more than English ivy.

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