Did you know that ferns have a prominent place in folklore?
Ferns are an ancient family of plants—which first show up in fossil records from a time over 100 million years BEFORE dinosaurs walked the Earth. In fact, ferns grew before flowering plants existed.
Long ago, people couldn't explain how ferns reproduced since they lack flowers or seeds. (Today we know that ferns reproduce from spores.)
It was this mystery of the non-flowering fern that led to folklore about mystical flowers as seeds.
Here is some of the folklore that I have have found—and thought that you would enjoy . . .
During the Middle Ages, ferns were thought to flower and produce seed only once a year—at midnight on St. John's Eve (June 23), also called Midsummer Eve. Since the seeds couldn't be seen, they were believed to be invisible. Many attempts were made to collect them because they allowed people to become invisible, see into the future, and have eternal youth.
It was also believed that ferns DID flower—but only until the birth of Christ. When all the flowers bloomed in His honor and the fern did not, it was condemned to remain flowerless forever.
Ferns also played a role in medicine, including uses as a remedy for rheumatism, toothaches, baldness, and nightmares.
- According to the symbolic meanings of plants, the fern stands for "sincerity." Click to see the meaning of your favorite flower or plant.
Starting in June, my woods and lowlands in New Hampshire would fill with ferns. (Ferns require liquid water to reproduce, which is why you'll often find them near streams and moist, forested areas.) They sprout from wet soil in late April and the young fiddleheads appear bright green against the decaying leaves.
Have you ever eaten fiddleheads? So-called because it looks like the tuning end of a fiddle, the fiddlehead the very top of the young ostrich fern, still tightly furled and sheathed in a covering that can be a challenge to remove. (Be aware that it's only the ostrich variety that is edible. In addition, they must be picked before unfurling; the leaves that follow this growth phase are poisonous.) Many people in this area boil the young plant for an asparagus-like treat.
Many ferns are also grown as houseplants. Here are a couple popular ferns with some growing tips:
Boston ferns grow well with temperatures that are 68 to 75 degrees F during the day and 50 to 69 degrees F at night. They require humidity between 50 and 80 percent, and they do not like drafts. Boston ferns stop growing from fall to winter and during this dormant stage like the temperature to be 50 degrees, minimal watering (the soil should be barely moist), and no fertilizer. During the winter, mist the leaves twice a day. The fern's root system can occupy up to three quarters of the solid space in the pot without harm, and this plant does not like to be repotted.
Staghorn ferns are often presented as gifts. They can not be planted in ordinary potting soil, so that's the first thing to check. They should be placed on a piece of bark or (unreated) wood board. Place a few handfuls of damp sphagnum moss or orchid mix on the board and place the fern on top so that the flat round basal fronds are touching the board. Firmly secure the fern to the board with twine, a thin wire, or fishing line. (The fern will attach itself to the wood eventually.) To water staghorn fern, soak the entire arrangement in a bucket or sink. Keep the fern in the shade and water daily until it takes hold of the wood. Feed every two weeks year-round with a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted by half.
Do you have ferns in your area or do you grow ferns? Please share your thoughts on ferns—and folklore!
Catherine, our New Media Editor, joined The Old Farmer's Almanac in 2008. She edits content on both this Web site, Almanac.com, and the companion site to The Old Farmer's Almanac for Kids publication, Almanac4kids.com. She also pens the Almanac Companion enewsletters and keeps up with readers on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!