Northern Maidenhair, Alpine Spleenwort, Alpine Lady, Lady, Lace, Parsley, Brittle, Triangular Wood, Male, Oak, Licorice, Bristle or Vancouver, Mountain Holly, Sword, Bracken, Deer, Stream or Sierra Water...Yes, these are all common names of the true ferns which can be found and identified here in Mount Rainier!! I thought I had just about conquered the identification of the ferns in the park until I looked into the park collections!
Ferns have been around for quite some time. In fact, they have been on Earth for 500 million years and are among the oldest vascular plants in the fossil record. Their claim to fame occurred during the Carboniferous period when they were among the dominant land plants. Today there are about 10,000 known fern species in the world. Thirty of these can be found in the Pacific Northwest.
The plant we commonly think of as a fern is actually only one of the two stages in the life cycle of the fern. It is an asexual generation which bears spores. These spores are dispersed and if they find suitable conditions the spores will form tiny one-half inch, heart-shaped plants called prothallus. These are self-supporting green plants containing both the male and female reproductive cells, which in time will grow into the asexual fern with which we are familiar.
Here in Mount Rainier National Park there are 17 species of true ferns. Sword fern is the most common of these. Bracken ferns often will grow in disturbed areas created by roads, clearcuts, and fires. Licorice fern has a licorice taste. Mountain Holly fern grows in rocky areas, Maidenhair fern received its name from either the slender black leafstalks or from the fine black fibrous roots. Some ferns such as Parsley fern resemble a moss or as the name suggests the flowering plant, Parsley. Lady fern and Male fern in some way must have represented to early herbalists the two sexes, often growing together in the forests. Other ferns may have habitats ranging from rocky cliffs to damp, dark rain forests. Unlike flowering plants which you sometimes need the flower present to easily identify, ferns, unless found in the prothallus stage, can be identified year-round. With a little time and patience you can become familiar with and become able to identify many of the common true ferns found here at Mount Rainier.
During off-season in the museum, I would ask visitors who wandered in if they knew what a Brown Creeper is, and if they didn't, I would ask them to guess what it might be. a Several interesting answers came forth. A few believed that it is a mammal that is active in the nighttime. Others guessed that it is a bug (like a Brown Recluse), still others thought of it as a vine (Virginia Creeper's cousin.)
Some visitors were right on the mark--it is a small, inconspicuous bird, mottled brown in appearance, that inhabits the forested sections of the United States. The Brown Creeper is active on the trunks of trees where its curved beak helps to locate bark insects, eggs, and larvae. What a delight it would be to see this bird on one of those twisted trunks, for its manner of movement is in a spiral one--always circling upwards rather than down. In fact, the bird will fly all the way back down to the base, and only then will he ascend, using his stiff tail as a prop on the trunk.
This bird is of interest to us because of its reliance on dead standing trees. The Creeper builds an elongated cup nest behind loose bark attached to the trunk, and sometimes will use the mycelia of fungi to fasten the nest onto the tree. In order for the Brown Creeper to survive, it needs a constant supply of trees with sloughing bark. Since the park has no shortage of dead trees, the future of the Creeper's existence in our park is secure.
GRAND PARK -- A high and extensive area in the northern portion of the Park. The miles of relatively level ground, flower-strewn and ornamented with circular groves of sub-alpine firs and hemlocks, with deer abundant every summer, make the name an appropriate one. Elevation @ 5,700 feet above sea level.
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