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ACT's Nature Corner: Learn Your Ferns on the Arundel Trails

Winter in New England can be a season that seems only coloured in white or brown except for the green of our evergreen trees, but nature gives us other hidden islands of green to gladden our hearts even here in wintery Maine. There are several Maine ferns that that stay green all year. Three of them are found on the Arundel Conservation Trust (ACT) trails. Let’s see how you can identify them on your walks.

The Christmas Fern, there are many thoughts about how it got its name. Some say it was used in days gone by for Christmas decorations. Others say it is because it is green at Christmas time. Personally, I like the story that it got its name because each of its pinna (leaflets) has a small bump at one side at its base and makes it look like a boot Santa might wear or a stocking that might be hung on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) grows in clumps about 18” high but snow may have weighed it down to the ground. Look for the traditional “boot” or “stocking” shape of the pinnae. You can find many of these ferns on ACT’s Welch Woods trail on River Road.

There are two other ferns that you can find on ACT’s trails behind the new Town Hall, the Evergreen Fern (Dryopteris intermedia) and the Marginal Fern (Dryopteris marginalis). Keep an eye out for these ferns near boardwalks and bridges. They grow in clumps but look much “lacier” than the Christmas Fern. The lacy appearance is because their pinna or leaflets are divided into smaller leaflets or “pinnules”.

One way to tell the Evergreen Fern from the Marginal Fern apart is to look at their pinnules. The Evergreen fern looks pointy or toothed. The Marginal fern pinnules are more rounded.

There are many other ways to identify ferns particularly the groups of spores called “sori” some ferns have attached to the underside of their pinna or leaflets. Check the ferns you find and see if you can find any. They will look like brownish dots. We can explore those when we have more ferns to enjoy in the spring. Lots to see in our Arundel woods.

Good luck in finding and identifying the ferns on the trails, remember to tag us on social media or send us your pictures at

Next month we’ll take a look at some of the evergreen trees on the trail. Do you know the difference between a pine tree, a spruce tree, and a fir tree? Do you know what tree has both cones and needles but is entirely bare in winter?


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