Fern Fronds and Fiddles
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:
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.