Fern Fronds and Fiddles

May 2, 2008 at 1:48 am 13 comments

A number of years ago, I was hiking alone when I kept hearing familiar sounds. It sounded like cars passing by, but I was no where near any road crossings. It turned out it the wind rustling the trees. I smiled at how my mind worked. Here, wind has been around well before mankind, not to mention automobiles. It is by far the incumbent in this world. Yet, because of the modern life I’m accustomed to, my simile was “the wind sounds like passing cars” and not the other way around. I described something that had been around forever with something that had barely been around for 100 years.

Today, Phifer and I took our dogs for a short hike on the Appalachian Trail. We passed by a number of fern fronds that were just starting to unroll. You’ll be surprised, I’m sure, but I took a few pictures:

Fern fonds unwinding

More fern fronds unroll

Do you know what those cute little fern coils are called? They have a couple of names. First, they are referred to as fiddleheads after the scroll at the top of stringed instruments like violins. They are also called croziers after the curved-top staffs carried by bishops and popes and other people of religious authority. Looking at the three, it is easy to see the visual similarities.

Circinate vernation of a fern, a fiddle head, and a crozier.

But get this– Ferns are one of our oldest plants. They first appeared in the fossil record over 300 million years ago. “Modern” violins became popular in the mid-1500s. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word crozier didn’t come around until 1290.

That means, we’ve named fern parts after things that did not appear until 299,999,552 and 299,999,282 years later.

What does nature have to do to get a little respect? 🙂

P.S. More pictures from today’s fern-filled hike at the base of Sinking Creek Mountain can by found on my Flickr site.

P.S.S. Did this post make you hungry? The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has a collection of fiddlehead recipes.

Entry filed under: Appalachian Trail, Fern, Hiking, Phifer.

links for 2008-05-01 10th Anniversary of Earl Shaffer’s *3rd* Thru Hike

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Clint  |  May 2, 2008 at 2:01 am

    So if we have to name things after things that appeared at the same time (i.e. 300 million years ago), then what SHOULD they be called?? 🙂 🙂

  • 2. tgaw  |  May 2, 2008 at 8:41 am

    Hmm….. I guess it would have to be something with seashells.

  • 3. scienceguy288  |  May 2, 2008 at 8:43 am

    They actually taste a bit like asparagus. Not bad really if you boil them.

  • 4. tgaw  |  May 2, 2008 at 8:54 am

    @scienceguy288- Interesting. Do they promote the same urine-odor as asparagus?

    Also have you, by chance, ever tried lichen tea?

  • 5. tgaw  |  May 2, 2008 at 9:04 am

    This post was partially inspired by a picture my sister put on Flickr with the caption “WTF is this thing?”

    20080405 - Kitten in our backyard - 153-5362 - weird looking plant thing

  • 6. Phil  |  May 2, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Are all fern fiddleheads (or !%^**`***x if we are going back 30 million years for a name) edible, or only certain species?

    I just watched Les Stroud munching fiddleheads on Survivorman. But then again, Into the Wild is still fresh in my mind.

  • 7. tgaw  |  May 2, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    @Phil – If I had to guess, I would venture to say that not all of the 20,000 species of ferns are edible. I did a quick check on Wikipedia and I did find this description:

    Pteridium aquilinum (bracken), the fiddleheads used as a cooked vegetable in Japan and are believed to be responsible for the high rate of stomach cancer in Japan.

    Hehe. So I guess even if they are edible, we may want to be picky about which ones we eat. 🙂

    P.S. I really like your 300 million year old name!

  • […] gets no credit: Fern Fronds and fiddle Heads. I also learned in the comments that fronds are […]

  • 9. Fern Frond Friday « TGAW  |  May 16, 2008 at 8:01 am

    […] don’t know if there is a fancy schamy name for that like fiddleheads. If not, I suggest gonjong after the hornlike roofs of ramah gadang (traditional homes found in […]

  • 10. Koosh Balls in Nature! « TGAW  |  October 23, 2008 at 12:44 am

    […] Suck Falls Trail, I got introduced to a new fungus. The scientific name is Hericium erinaceus. Like fern fronds (a.k.a. fiddleheads), the fungus has a bunch of common names based on its appearance such as “Lion’s Mane […]

  • 11. CECILLE lABONETE  |  February 22, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    There are some ferns that are really edible. We have a variety here in the Phils that could be eaten as a salad or could go well with boiled snails in coconut milk. Very delicious i assure you

  • 12. 3 Year Blogiversary « TGAW  |  March 3, 2009 at 1:04 am

    […] Fern Fronds and Fiddles […]

  • 13. Wedding – “Florals” « TGAW  |  April 22, 2010 at 11:50 am

    […] something nerdy. Inspired by some pictures from TheKnot.com, we decided the nice Fibonacci curve of fern fiddleheads would be wonderful. Jeff’s Flowers, Of Course stepped up the geek factor by adding […]


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