Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fiddle Me This Joker!

Simply put:  Fiddleheads are the unfurled heads of ferns.  And, they are used as a vegetable that is rich in Omega 3 and Omega 6, and are high in iron and fibre.   Low in sodium and high in potassium. 

Fern fiddleheads aren't sold commercially in this area and are only available from gardens or in the wild in the early spring.  It is advised to only use 1/3 of the heads of each plant - the plant will die if they are all harvested.  The Canadian village of Tide Head, New Brunswick calls themselves the "Fiddlehead Capital of the World." Fiddleheads are exported from this area either fresh or frozen. 

Fiddleheads were a part of the Native American Indians diet.  Do not eat fiddleheads raw as they are suspected as a source of toxin.  Steam or boil and eat hot with a sauce.

For the gardener, ferns are a beautiful plant for shade and semi shade.  In older days, every yard had a healthy stand of ferns, often next to the house.  Ferns are tough and spread when conditions are right and last many years.  It's best to plant them in an area where more fragile plants need not compete.

Ferns have a very interesting history and path.  If you enjoy all the "ins and outs" of plant structure, this is a good read.  One such fact is some ferns are good at removing arsenic from the soil.  Today, I'll keep this a little more basic.   
 Picture of a boston fern.
Ferns do not have either seeds or flowers (they reproduce via spores).  Certain species appear in fossils dated 360 million years ago.  My opinion (and a dime), it's easiest to start ferns if you buy a plant or have a start from an other's garden.  The American Fern Society lists instructions on how to gather spores.  It takes a few years for plants to get settled and then they perform beautifully.

Do not take ferns from the wild - for one it's against the law and another it's possible you may unleash a nasty invasive noxious weed.

Not all ferns thrive in all climates so read your labels carefully or plant in similar surrounds as where you received your home start.  There are ferns for many situations, but, not all ferns fit all situations.

Many area nurseries and catalogs have a selection of interesting ferns, from large to small.  Here are just a few:
  • Burgundy Lace Japanese Painted Fern - Zone 5 - A purple very short shade fern.
  • Ostrich Fern - Zone 3 - A green tall shade fern - needs moisture.
  • Lady Fern - Zone 2 - A green tall shade fern.
  • Japanese Painted Fern - Zone 3 - A silver gray shade weeping fern.
  • Royal Fern - Zone 2 - A 7 ft. emerald green light shade fern - likes moisture.
  • Tatting Fern - Zone 4 - Short lacy green shade fern - unusual fronds.
  • Autumn Fern - Zone 5 - 2 ft. orange brown in spring - shade fern.  
  •  Marsh Fern - Zone 3b - 2 ft. light green fern - aggressive spreader.
  •  Sensitive Fern - Zone 3a - 1-3 ft green fern - simply divided fronds.
There are many more, but you get the idea.  Ferns were big during Victorian times and they are making a comeback today.  That's good news if you are searching for plants.  I remember my grandma having pots of ferns on her porch during the summer.  Potting is a good solution if you don't want them to spread.   

I like to snip a few for contrast with flowers in a vase.  They provide a nice full fresh looking plant for shaded areas.

Should you want to try your hand at eating them - let me know how it goes.   

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