Saturday, April 23, 2022

Signs of Spring: Fiddlehead ferns

fiddlehead fernsHave you spotted curly corkscrews emerging from the forest floor this spring? Look closely as the woods begins to “wake up” this season, and you’re likely to see some fiddleheads. Fiddleheads are the frizzy furls of a young fern that will unroll into a fresh frond. Most species of ferns go through this brief stage, which gets its name for its resemblance to the coiled end of a string instrument.

In folklore, ferns are often described as possessing magical qualities because of their “invisible” reproduction. Having been around for 300+ million years (well before the dinosaurs!), this ancient group of plants preceded flowering species and instead reproduces with spores. These spores can be spotted on the underside of the fern’s fronds after the fiddlehead unfurls.

Please note: many of NY’s native ferns are protected species and should never be taken from the wild unless you have the permission of the landowner.

DEC photo

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Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.

5 Responses

  1. James D. Marco says:

    Are all fiddleheads edible?

    • Chip Dodson says:

      Fiddlehead and potato soup, yum Old man Lanfear made some for me years ago. Unfortunately the recipe ran away and I don’t remember exactly how to make it, so they are edible cooked anyhow.

    • JB says:

      Although it is usually not recommended to eat any fiddlehead raw (which is iteself debatable), there are arguably many species that should not be eaten even when cooked. For example, the edibility of one of the most widespread ferns in the world, Pteridium aquilinum (bracken fern), which is common in the Adirondack Park in wetlands and disturbed areas, has been a source of controversy for decades due to the occurence of carcinogenic compounds–though proper processing can demonstrably reduce this risk. And the fiddleheads of by far the most abundant ferns in the Adirondacks, the wood ferns (Dryopteris subgenus Dryopteris), are not eaten (except sparingly as a rare traditional delicacy in parts of Europe) due to the presence of compounds known to cause circulatory system and neurological disorders. There are many other species that are toxic as well, but for most Pteridophytes worldwide, toxicity is simply unknown.

  2. Christine hildebrand says:

    I used to be able to buy them at Whole Foods in New Jersey and I would saute them with other greens, as they are very pricey to make a whole meal. Delicious with olive oil and garlic. This year I haven’t seen them at Whole Foods and no one else seems to sell them. Very sad.

  3. Dick Carlson says:

    The telltale identification of Ostrich Fern (Fiddleheads) is the “U” shaped stalk, not round or flat.

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