SUNDERLAND — After a seemingly endless winter, spring has finally sprung and native plants are unfurling as the fear of frost subsides.
To celebrate the beginning of warm weather, new life and Mother’s Day, approximately two dozen nature enthusiasts gathered at Chard Pond to join Randy Stone and his wife, Janice Stone, of Pioneer Valley Fern Society for a casual-yet-informational hike to identify native flowers and ferns.
Stone, a retired forester, has a wealth of knowledge about local ferns and wildflowers. He retired four years ago, but still enjoys spending much of his time in nature and helping others enjoy it, too.
His interest in ferns began in the 1970s as he realized he had no idea how to identify the seemingly endless types of ferns. He started his expertise by learning “a few tricks” for identification.
On his website, he compiled pictures of common ferns in the area to help other people learn to identify these plants.
The attendees — most clad in hiking boots, perfumed with bug spray and armed with cameras — gathered for the walk around 2 p.m.
“It’s not a hiking workshop, just a walk,” Stone reminded hikers. “There’s no test at the end; it’s non-competitive!”
He also cautioned hikers to be aware that tick season is here, and to thoroughly check for the pesky creatures after the hike was over.
The hiking tour began at Chard’s Pond and slowly meandered through the sunlight-dappled woods to a serene waterfall. Stone enthusiastically pointed out each species of fern, showing hikers how to differentiate between the various types.
Participants kneeled down to examine plants and learn from Stone about their characteristics. Stone welcomed plenty of questions.
Along the way, Stone found fiery Columbine flowers growing out of rock crevices, dainty white dwarf ginseng, maroon Trillium flowers sprouting out of bright green leaves, hooded Jack-In-the-Pulpits and more.
Even in such a small area in Western Massachusetts, there are many different types of ferns. Stone explained each of the ferns he found in the area:
Sensitive Ferns are an indicator of wetlands.
Ostrich Ferns are extremely common; edible fiddleheads come from this species.
Cinnamon Ferns have a brownish “wool” covering.
An Interrupted Fern gets its unique name from the fact that the fertile leaf grows in the middle of the “sterile” leaf.
Christmas ferns get their namesake from that they are an “evergreen” fern; their foliage persists year-round.
“Some people say the leaf looks like Santa’s sleigh, or even a Christmas stocking” Stone added.
Also, ferns don’t reproduce via seeds or pollen. They reproduce with spores that waft off like dust when they are ready to reproduce. These spores are usually on the back of the fronds.
The spring initially had a slow start, so the plants have taken their time sprouting.
“It’s been a really unusual spring,” Stone said. “It’s stayed cool for so long.”
Stone says he tries to host “a couple” of walks per month and a variety of workshops which tend to be more academic. He plans to hold a workshop for Department of Conservation and Recreation workers in June.
In November, he hosts a Black Friday walk in the area of Mount Toby and the Sunderland Caves so people can enjoy nature before winter truly sets in.
“Now that I’m retired I can just walk around … and have fun,” he said happily.
Reach Christie Wisniewski at:
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