Deer (Fern) Hunting Season

Hunting season is upon us.  But this morning’s fog eerily shrouded the woods and nursery and inspired me to huddle in my new safe cozy office.  Though I much preferred to stay in and – oh, I don’t know – balance the checkbook and evaluate cash flow, some primal urge overwhelmed my reluctance.  I pulled on my camo, grabbed my weapons and ventured out on a hunt for the not-so-elusive Deer Fern (Blechnum spicant).

Deer Fern proved a willing and congenial object of prey for my straight-shooting camera and ever-sharp pen and notebook.  Deer Fern’s deep green spreading fronds and its graceful vertical reproductive fronds soothe the eye, bringing out the best in those who seek it.  It naturally inhabits moist to wet shady forests.  It grows among native mosses alongside Lady Fern and Red and Oval-leaved Huckleberries in the shade cast by Cascara, Pacific Yew, Red-Twig Dogwood, Western Hemlock, Sitka Spruce and Western Redcedar.  It is part of the ground layer component of the forest community.  Not inclined to put up a fight.

Out on safari, I found Deer Ferns hunkered with Lady Ferns in a dark depression left by the rootwad of a fallen cedar, where it will be very wet and muddy once the rains hit.

Bravely traipsing onward, I spotted it in a much drier spot — on the edge of the mown field in a transition zone just upslope from a forested wetland.  Salal, Lady Fern, Sword Fern, Trailing Blackberry, Hardhack, Bracken Fern and Salmonberry shared this spot in front of a Western Redcedar.  The afternoon sun hits this spot full force.  I think the protection of the surrounding plants, along with the fact that this area stays moist all winter, enables the Deer fern to thrive.  Though adaptable, it will not do well in dry shade.

In a strategic flanking maneuver, I moved in on my prey near a seasonal stream (a couple feet above the wet).  I caught it sharing a bed of Stairstep Moss with yellowing Wild Lily-of-the-Valley, whose mottled beige berries will ripen to clear ruby-red after its leaves disintegrate.  This landscape-specimen-quality Deer Fern had plenty of elbow-room for its rich evergreen foliage – it was about 2 ½’ wide.  Its vertical fronds had faded from their summer Kelly green and were now gold and black.

I got a 10-point Deer Fern in my sights; it was co-existing with Salal in an area that occasionally experiences inundation in the winter.  Its three-foot-tall reproductive fronds (which hold the spores) were tastefully draped with finely-embroidered spiderwebs.  The moisture in the air set off the spider art.  I mercilessly took it down with my hunting weapons: slashing notes with my pen, digitally snatching trophy images to mount on my web-site wall.

All in a day’s work for a professional Deer (Fern) Hunter.

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