I have a few *pterible images from that Blue Ridge Parkway meadow full of ferns I discovered a couple of weeks back, and will post one or two of my favorites.

As with wildflowers, the first blooms (as if ferns had them) are most attractive. Ferns, in addition to their lacy leafery, often have this seldom-seen “fertile” stage, as in this Cinnamon Fern, when they are busily producing spores by the millions for dispersal in the wind.

As I’m sure you remember from biology class, those spores, against all odds finding favorable soil, can produce a gametophyte, a little heart-shaped leaf that will produce either an egg, or a flagellated, swimming sperm.

Given the necessary film of water between the two (understand why there are no desert ferns?) the multi-tailed sperm swim to the egg along a chemical gradient (they “smell” the egg, in a sense) and voila! a fertilized egg (the sporophyte phase in this “alternation of generations”) begins to elongate into what will become a fern frond–either a “sterile” leaf-only frond, or one these fancy feather-duster-looking arrangments (or some variation on the theme generally not as gawdy as this) that is “fertile” and spore-bearing.

Now. You may expect a pop test on this at our next meeting. Do your homework.

*Pteridology is the study of ferns, so if I’m having a pterible day, it means I’m seeing lots of them!

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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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  1. I learned none of this in biology class. That’s why I come here. But I can tell you that I’m going to be sick on the day of the quiz.

  2. I was a Botany major, but I didn’t learn some of what you tell me, and I’m pleased to be getting educated at this late age. I sure didn’t know that some fronds are spore-producing and some not.