Mary Beth Writes


F is for Ferns, Fungi, Friends


I’ve been googling lots. I’m still wildly unprepared to talk about ferns or fungi, but I know more than I did last week and I guess that’s how we do this.

Ferns were among the first actual plants to show up on planet earth. Over a period of precisely several bazillion years algae crept out of the steamy hot tropical oceans and lakes that covered just about everything. You know how algae creeps, right? Have you seen the showers at a campground? Algae doesn’t wanna stay back there. Algae wants to move (on up to the east side).

After a couple of eons there were now masses of dead and alive algae everywhere, all locking in CO2 (one of the greenhouse gasses warming our planet now). This gathering and storing of CO2 v-e-r-y slowly caused our planet to cool. As the climate became less intense plants could evolve, plants which would grow fronds and leaves with which to absorb sunlight to facilitate photosynthesis. Boom, a mere 400-300 (or so) million year ago ferns were among the first plants to come to this party. We know this because of 400-300-million-year-old fossils with fern fronds in them. 

Ferns grow and move in two-step combo. They did this several million years ago and they do it now.

First, ferns spread by rhizomes which are those underground stems that spread to send up new plants. Anyone who has tried to keep ferns contained in just one part of a garden knows rhizomes on a personal basis.

Ferns do not reproduce by seeds that were produced by flowers (as do almost all other plants). Seeds inside flowers require bugs and animals to disseminate those seeds. When ferns first popped up on earth, there were no bugs or animals. Ferns propagate via spores under their fronds. Actually, those black dots are clumps of spores because individual spores are microscopic. (I didn’t know this so I had to tell you.) Ferns grow whenever conditions are right, so there isn’t a designated fern season.

Spores get water by sucking moisture (believe me, none of the scientific articles called this sucking, but you know what I mean) from the plant. At a certain point spores take in enough moisture so that pressure builds up in the now depleted water pipes in the frond, and that vacuum will eventually SHOOT the spore out into the world. I’ve seen flying spores but had no idea I was watching such a complicated process. I bought my kids a marshmallow gun once. You put the marshmallow in, pull back the plunger, let go, and the air shoots it out. Like that.

Carl Linnaeus was Swedish so I (great-granddaughter of eight Swedes) should mention that he was the first scientist to identify ferns as their own classification of plants by listing 15 kinds of ferns in 1753. Scientists now estimate there are more than 9000 kinds of ferns. That’s a Swede for you. Make a list. Start where you can. One step in front of the other. You will never finish the job but you will have done your part.

Ferns live on the margins of habitats and come in all sizes. Teeny ferns grow in rice paddies, and most other quiet watery surfaces, where they “fix” nitrogen. This is why traditional rice paddies don’t require added fertilizer. 

New Zealand and Norfolk Island, Australia have ferns that grow up to 65 feet tall and look like palm trees. 

You can eat just coming out of the ground fern fiddleheads in the spring. Sautee them with bacon or dried tomatoes if you are feeling it (Look up recipes to do this right). I like to just pick and eat them while standing in my garden. They taste like green exploding in your mouth.

So ferns don’t have seeds, they have those spores. A Finnish folktale says that anyone who finds the seed of a fern which blooms on Midsummer night can use that seed to travel invisibly to where eternally blazing will o' the wisps mark the spot of hidden treasure. Not kidding. If you are so smug as to think you know where to look for these treasures, you are wrong since those places are magically protected from non-fern-seed holders. Truly, one wonders how this tale evolved. And why so many folk tales are about things that don’t exist.

Next time I’m with grandkids, I am going to explain to them that ferns NEVER have flowers, and then ask them to draw a picture of what a fern flower would look like if they did exist.

Olden myths here in the US say a dried fern can be thrown into hot coals to exorcise evil spirits. Also, smoke from a burning fern will remove snakes and other unwelcome creatures.

Who wants to burn ferns near politicians who lie?

The universe is old beyond the scope of our imagination and nothing in it is standing still. What is it swirling towards? What’s the story here? We come from rock, water, heat, slime. Then there were ferns and 400 million later, there still are. What small and powerful splendor is going on here? What story are we part of? If our lives are only a smidgen of time, what are the most holy and beautiful ways to use our slivers of warmth, water, air, and the necessity to spin and whorl?


Add new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Three Things / Story, Eclipse, Brando

1. I scheduled my Substack story to go out at 8AM this morning. I just looked to see why it didn’t show up and it says it is going to be sent at 8:49 tonight. I’m going to leave it like that. Maybe 9PM on a weekend night is a good time to send short fiction. Let me know if you have an opinion.

2. I read this quote by Marlon Brando who said this early in his career. “I’m not afraid of anything and I don’t love money.”

Even though this is probably not exactly true of me and you, I do love the bravado.

Peace Like a River / Book Report

4/3/2024 She Writes

I just finished reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and I am going to talk about it for a little bit before I forget how profoundly interesting and evocative this book was and is, at least to me.

I get emails from Boswell Bookstore (2559 N Downer Ave in Milwaukee). They host artist events pretty often and Monday evening, April 15th Len and I will be there for the Author Evening with Leif Enger. You can look up more of the details if you are interested. (Tickets are free but you need to reserve them.)

My Grandkids & 'Wandering Stars'


The past month has been jam-packed. The week in Mineral Point. Len’s two-day seminar in Chicago. Last week we had various grandkids here for three overnighters and yesterday our family came to Easter dinner here in our house which was clean after a week with grandkid overnighters so you know that was a piece of cake. Len smoked two hams (yes, hard to keep them lit) and I made the largest amounts of from-scratch scalloped potatoes plus macaroni and cheese that I have ever made. As in, I grated four pounds of cheese Saturday afternoon. “On Wisconsin.”

Ghost on a Post / Poetry with Third Graders


This is what I texted to Len this afternoon after I finished the poetry class with third graders. “I’m done and back. The kids were great and I’m a limp washrag, Teaching forty 8-year-olds for 90 minutes is way more energy than Everest.” I then drank half a beer (I NEVER drink in the afternoon) and fell asleep until the Mineral Point afternoon ‘change of shift siren’ shrieked for several minutes. It’s been a full day.

How 2 Write a Poem (3rd grade edition)


Next week is my Writers Week at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, WI. I won this when my story “How Crow Got Out of Jail” (Read Here) won first prize in the 2023 Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring contest for short fiction.

Winning that contest motivated me to open my Substack account. So far I’ve published 17 stories and only published once twice. (Who noticed that?)

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent aging Alaska animals anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books Boxing Day boy scout Bread breakfast BreakfastClub BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote crime CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering deer democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep distraction dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola Grief groceries Guadalupe Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len lies Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens MineralPoint Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples pizza poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations religion Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites sci-fi ScottSimon sculpture Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet St. Louis staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress SUBSTACK Survival swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing Three Things ThreeThings TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone Zebra
Ad Promotion