Today, twenty-eight years seems like a long time to stay in one place. That is how long I have lived in my little piece of natural paradise just north of Chicago. The longer I live here the more intrigued I am with the history of the adjacent patch of less tampered with land, which is officially part of the Cook County Forest Preserve. I have heard that this patch of land was once home to a Calvary Station; but alas, I have been unable to find any record of any such past. In fact, I have been unable to find any specific record revealing the history of this exact space. Upon our arrival as new homeowners, I was surprised to learn the fern growing on the forest floor was a native to this naturally marshy savannah. Turns out that my choice of fern for our front window box was most appropriate in my mostly-native perennial garden.
Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) is an aged native. It is so old it is considered a living fossil. That really gets my imagination running. Now I don’t only wonder what our small habitat was like several hundred years ago; what would it have looked like a thousand years ago, or longer?! Human impact is often negative in effect for native species. My novice gardening skills proved fatal for my window box newly planted fern in spite of their prehistoric lineage. Turns out fern NEED their tubers to be at ground level; my eagerness to provide a lush covering of soil, peat and mulch was only successful in smothering. They have been replaced and cared by this now more learned gardener.
Fiddleheads are the curled up, unopened new plant growth that appears above ground this time of year. It is the unfurled fern’s fronds. “Cinnamon” refers to the resulting color only of the inner spore-bearing fronds after they have shed their spores. The fern is absent of any spicy aroma or taste. Still the Cinnamon Fern‘s fiddlehead is edible, but apparently not as palatable as some other springtime fern varieties.