Maidenhair Ferns: Finding Their Good Side

“Her picture just doesn’t do her justice” you might have heard someone say about an unflattering or lackluster image of one with greater beauty than the photographer was able to capture.

I know the feeling. I find it hard to do justice to ferns shooting them where they live.  They are always more attractive than I make them look, and that’s a disappointment.

One problem is isolating them so that they are distinct from their typically cluttered forest background.

IMG_0132maidenhairFerns480In this case, I managed to frame these maidenhair fronds against the bark of a very large tree on a very steep hillside. Take a look at what I had to do, composition-wise, to get this shot. See it in context here.

IMG_0119maidenhair480Ferns have showy leaves or “fronds” that are divided one or more times into smaller segments or leaflets called “pinnae.” But it is not easy to attractively or interestingly show the shape of the frond, the details of the pinnae, and the depth of the entire plant. You can sense the three-dimensionality of the plant in this image, but it only hints at the attractive symmetry and form.

In the case of the northern maidenhair fern, its frond is typically forked into two segments, each resembling a kind of spreading necklace of delicate pinnae. The one above has just unfurled, and has not become the ultimate dark green of the mature plants, like the one below.

IMG_0224maidenhair480Lastly, this individual was growing on the side of a bank, so its frond dipped outward, affording a proper view of the elegant necklace of tiny green wings.

As with wildflowers, except maybe more so because most ferns are many times taller than wide, is the fact that the slightest breeze sets them swaying. As if focusing on a fern was not already hard enough!

So while the ferns “show what God can do with a leaf” as Thoreau once claimed, it is generally going to make you want to spit trying to show their good side.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  2. I really loved the overview you shot to get the first photo! Looking up at trees and sky like that in a photo is always very appealing.