A tiny spiral appears amid the undergrowth – a new leaf is beginning to unfurl. The zesty green frond offers a welcome splash of colour after the grey of a long winter.
I love watching ferns awaken in Spring – each leaf opening with different personality. Some are slow to shake off the winter slumber – like a tiny creature curled up, dozing with a curly prehensile tail…
Others extend gracefully. As a light breeze ripples through the leaves (and with a little imagination), they begin to resemble seahorses drifting on a gentle current.
I imagine these leafy seahorses clinging to their seagrass strands as they bob in the breeze…
Whilst they may look frail, ferns are in fact one of the oldest plant forms on Earth, with plenty of fossil evidence. They belong to the group Pteridophyta, and there are at least 12 thousand varieties across the globe. They provide shelter and protective ground cover for insects, reptiles and mammals; and they range in size dramatically – from tiny house plants to tropical ferns the size of trees.
In tropical areas, ferns are abundant and many tropical ferns are actually epiphytes (like orchids), living on the trunks and branches of trees. But ferns can also inhabit arid environments and high altitudes. They reproduce using spores, so are able to survive in conditions many flowering plants are unable to tolerate.
In temperate zones, brackens thrive in moist, shady woodlands; their leaves bursting into colour in the Autumn before they die back in winter.
When Spring finally arrives, the fern regenerates itself and is renewed. For this reason, it has become a symbolic plant in many parts of the world, especially in New Zealand. Here, the symbol of an unfurling fern frond is called a ‘koru’ – the Maori word for ‘loop’.
This shape of an unfurling fern frond symbolises new life, new beginnings, creation and growth. The koru is used in Maori artwork and tattoos; and cards and jewellery with the Koru design are often given at births and marriages – significant times of New Beginnings.
Ferns also hold meaning in Japan, Hawaii and Africa. Their distinctive shape has inspired artists, botanists and even mathematicians with their ‘fractal geometry’. In fact, the word ‘Pteridomania’ refers to the Victorian obsession of collecting the plants and using the fern motif in all kinds of decorative art
I have always admired the simple beauty of ferns. I hope you enjoy my photos of this fascinating plant.