Friday, April 24, 2015

THE FIDDLEHEADS ARE HERE!

The fiddleheads are popping through the sping earth, and you can almost see them growing before your eyes.  I admit it, I’m a fan of ferns. There is something delicate and eye-catching about these ornamental plants.  Every year we watch them materialize from the flowerbeds around our patio; and every year I purchase four pots of ferns to hang from hooks around the perimeter of it. Ferns are a native plant of Pennsylvania which means they occurred in this region before settlement by Europeans.
 
Why are ferns unique? They are part of a group of species of vascular plants which reproduce via spores and have neither seeds nor flowers. However, they have stems and leaves. The fiddleheads which first emerge expand into the delicate fronds we all know and recognize.


Fiddleheads are the young, tightly-coiled leaves of the ostrich fern. Although all types of ferns technically have fiddleheads, only those from the ostrich fern are safe for consumption. They are considered a delicacy in areas where the ostrich fern grows natively and are identified by the papery brown scales that cover their coils. Only those who can properly identify the ostrich fern should consider cooking them for consumption.

It’s believed the first ferns appeared in fossil records 360 million years ago in the Devonian period, but many of the current species didn’t appear until roughly 145 million years ago in the early Cretaceous period, after flowering plants came to dominate many environments. Throughout history, ferns have been popular in medicine, art, mythology, landscaping, flower design and more.

With over 900 members, The American Fern Society is one of the largest international fern clubs in the world. It was established in 1893 with the objective of fostering interest in ferns and fern allies.

Monday, April 6, 2015

SPRINGTIME IN PENNSYLVANIA

There is something magical about springtime in Pennsylvania. Like a curious intruder, the season tiptoes into the chilly state, taking time to look around and become familiar with its surroundings. As the axis of the Earth increases its tilt relative to the sun, the days get longer and the nights get shorter.
The gentle, warm sunshine starts the musical, but familiar melody of drip, drip, plop from the gutters and roofs as ice and snow melt. Water races down driveways, streets, and hills and vales, swelling streams and rivers which have a merry song of their own. 

Along those frozen riverbanks, the skunk cabbage is one of the first plants to thrive along with the red buds which take on a flaming glow against the drab gray arms of leafless deciduous scrubs and trees. In yards and flowerbeds, crocus peeps through a blanket of white, and on the south side of buildings, daffodils and grape hyacinths poke through icy flowerbeds and unfurl their yellow and purple blossom. And everywhere the air is clean and crisp, smelling of new growth and rich loamy earth.


Spring is the time when some mammals are starting to mate. If you listen carefully at night, you might hear a fox barking from the woods, coyotes calling to each other, rabbits squealing in the bushes, or the haunting hoots of the barn and horned owls. And every Pennsylvanian recognizes the familiar and welcome sounds of the peepers in the wetlands just before nightfall.

The actual migrating “snow birds” are back in the state along with the locals. The chatter of the resident black-capped chickadees, winter sparrows, and cardinals in the bushes becomes more insistent as they call to their mates and hunt for the perfect place to build a nest while warning others to stay out of their territories. Canada geese wing northward, and soon the wrens and goldfinch will follow. Somewhere up in the pines the first lean robins arrive to shiver and force out a tune while they search the thawing yards for bare spots to find nourishment.

Spring is a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors. Winter brown lawns fade into hypnotic greens and maples sprout lime-colored new leaves. Forsythia bushes spill out showers of sunny-colored flowers along the roadways. High above, bright blue skies tower over everything—except for the few minutes when glorious sunrises and even more spectacular sunsets paint the sky in ruby reds, golds and plum colors. 

Spring is noisy, colorful, and magical in Pennsylvania. It’s a long-awaited season which lifts and warms the heart and soul upon its arrival—especially after a long, cold, and dreary winter.