18 April 2021
I’ve been watching the Ostrich Ferns unfurl. It stretches out bit by bit. I am watching a being become fully itself.
The Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struhiopteris var. pensylvanica) in my garden sits in a tall black pot. I dug them up last fall. I wanted to make room for containers for growing food. The spot was a bit too sunny for them, anyway. I didn’t think they survived the move. I composted one pot before I realized the plants were still alive and sleeping beneath the soil.
I have a spot for them underneath the Shadbush tree at the end of the garden. The space has dappled shade throughout the spring and summer. It may be a little dry because of the tree, but I’ll keep my eye on it.
Stealth Food Gardening
Ostrich Ferns are part of my ‘stealth food gardening’. The stealth plants (usually indigenous and native) I tuck n my garden here and there. Few people know what these plants are, and certainly not that they are edible. The edible spring fronds are called, ‘fiddleheads’. Sautéed, they taste to me like a cross between broccoli and asparagus.
I want a garden that is full of food not just for me but also for the animals that are my neighbors. I don’t even mind when the squirrels dig up something to eat. Stray cats are a different story. I don’t like when they hunt the birds in my garden.
Natural Spirals in Creation
The Ostrich Fern rises as a long, thick stalk from the soil. As it rises, a spiral of fuzzy little baby leaves is on top.
The fern is truly of this Earth, this universe. The spiral echoes the spirals found in the shell of a garden snail.
The eye of a hurricane.
The swirling energy of a distant universe and of our own.
The Path We’re On May be a Spiral
The furling of the spiral frond a bit each day is like watching something being born. The frond unfurls. It embodies growth and progression. It is a plant taking shape. A being opening up to the world, to new experiences, to life.
I pondered my life as a spiral. Not a straight line or path, but an unfurling. How would I perceive my life differently if it was an ‘unfurling’? Would I watch with anticipation as new and unknown events happen?
Even in the natural world, a path is not straight. As you follow a path or trail in the woods, rare is the way straight leading to a clearly seen goal. No, a trail goes up and over, goes around rocks and stumps and trees. A trail narrows where you may have to walk slowly with one foot in front of the other. And then it opens up and you can spread your arms wide.
The Good Red Road, when we imagine it is a straight line? Or is the Red Road a winding, twisting path that leads you to a destination you can’t see.
As we ponder and wring our hands over the destruction and foolishness of humanity, we seem to be headed straight for self-destruction. Perhaps this path we are on is a spiral, unfurling to something new. What if it is a new understanding that ends the nonsense that human beings seem to be so fond of? What if – the path we are on is not a geometric straight line but like the twists and turns of a nature-made trail? If it a spiral, then there is hope.
Growing Ostrich Ferns
Common name: Ostrich Fern
Scientific name: Matteuccia struhiopteris var. pensylvanica
Family name: Dryopteridaceae
Description: Upright feathery fronds with plenty of texture and relaxing green color in the garden.
Native range: Newfoundland to Alaska, south to British Columbia, South Dakota and Virginia. Native to Philadelphia, PA.
Habitat: along swamps and streams
Height: 2 -4 feet high
Width: 3 -6 feet
Light needed: Sun to shade
Moisture: moist to wet
Hardiness zones: 2 – 8
Bloom period: no bloom
Bloom color: no bloom
Growing Tips: Easy to grow. Easy from division. Relatively easy form spores. Can be grown as a houseplant.
Host plant to: unknown
Native Ferns, Mosses, and Grasses by William Cullina (Amazon.com affiliate link)
Star, Branch, Spiral, Fan: Learn to Draw from Nature’s Perfect Design Structures by Yellena James (Amazon.com affiliate link)
The Mandala Book: Patterns of the Universe by Lori Bailey Cunningham (Amazon.com affiliate link)
Disconnection from Earth: The Biggest Con
A very lovely article, wonderful analogies and thought- provoking.
We have these in our back yard, planted generations ago by my wife’s grandmother.
In fact they’ve encroached on my lawn so I’ve taken to transplanting them to other cool and shaded areas around my property.
I was surprised to see the cover photo was most definitely not an Ostrich fern, but no matter, still a very nice article.
Hi, Kevin – Thanks for the comment. I planted the Ostrich ferns as part of my ‘sleath food garden’, providing food from indigenous cultivated plants. They do spread. I double checked the cover photo and I am pretty sure it’s an Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). It is the only fern I’ve planted in my backyard garden. And I bought it from a native plant preserve back in 2013. I wish I had room for more ferns, but limited space means limited choices.