Sensitive fern is a good thing to look for on a winter nature walk. Sensitive fern gets its name because it’s very sensitive to frost and drought. The fertile fronds– the fronds that produce spores– are easy to see in winter. They look like little black beads on top of brown stalks.
You may also find some of the dried-up leaves sticking up above the snow. If no leaves are visible, you can dig beneath the snow to find the leaves.
On our search for sensitive fern, we also found some willow pine cone galls. These are galls formed on willows by the gall midge fly. The galls, not surprisingly given their name, look a lot like pine cones. Both willows and sensitive fern like moist growing conditions so it’s common to find the two plants growing together.
If you find sensitive fern, mark the area you found them and plan to visit as the weather warms up to see the new growth on the ferns. The new growth will take the form of reddish fiddle heads.
Other names for sensitive fern are bead fern or sympathy fern.
Here’s a video of a recent nature walk where we found sensitive fern and willow pine cone galls.
For more winter nature walk ideas and other seasonal activities, check out my monthly nature calendars.