Delicate, shiny dark stem, palmate leaf whorl of five, frilly leaflets that are water repellant.  

Maidenhair fern (courtesy Robert H. Mohlenbrock)

What a spiffy little fern! Maidenhair fern species live in tropical, sub-tropical, and many temperate zones. This includes Asia, Andes Mountains of South America, Pacific coast, and eastern North American forests.

More recently, you may also find this little fern in an office setting. This feat of careful devotion is almost painstaking for this moisture loving plant. Growing tips follow!

Environment

Like many ferns, Maidenhair require a relatively protected environment with constant moisture, moderate temperatures, and organically-rich and slightly acidic soils. Good drainage is imperative.

Good light is not. This plant grows well in partial to full shady places. Depending on the environment, direct sunlight will zap the plant quickly. Take note of where this plant occurs in nature (think steep, shady, and moist ravine bottoms) and try to mimic those conditions.  

Medicine, Food, and More

China has 30 species of Maidenhair ferns. Five of these are used in traditional Chinese medicines. The species found on the Pacific coast and eastern American forests, Adiantum pedatum, also has a long and varied use history with native Americans as well.

Medical uses around the world for this plant has included bronchitis, whooping cough, chronic infections, hepatitis, snakebites, rheumatism, asthma, coughing, fevers, burns, and scalds. North Americans would chew the fronds and then apply them to wounds to stop bleeding.   

Non-medical uses included: hair wash, conditioner, tonic, and growth extract. Stems were used in basketmaking.

The plant is edible. Fresh fronds have been used as garnish. Dried fronds have been used in a tea and in a refreshing fruit juice drink.

Maidenhair ferns are nontoxic.  
A number of ferns contain carcinogens. Some caution
when consuming any unusual plant is always advisable.

Landscaping

In some locales this clumping plant could be a wonderful landscape addition. Not only does it add great texture but in the right growing conditions can be fairly care-free.

The plant is great in a number of gardens such as woodland, fern, rock, and native. It may also be a delightful border option.  

Cleanup is minimal for well-grown plants. Just pick off the old dried fronds. It is also disease and pest free, and can be easily propagated.  

Inside

If you want to grow this in your office, consider using chemical (like chlorine, salt, and other water conditioners) free water that is tepid. Use a water mister several times a day, and make sure there is excellent drainage out of the pot. Use a water catchment tray with stones (to elevate the pot out of the water) is also a good bet.

Normally the plant would thrive in an organic-rich environment. In the office, it will need supplemental fertilizer on a regular basis.

REFERENCES:
–Smart Garden Guide (https://smartgardenguide.com/maidenhair-fern-care/)
–Wikipedia, Maidenhair fern (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adiantum_pedatum)
–Natural Medicinal Herbs (http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/a/adiantum-capillus-veneris=maidenhair-fern.php)
–Philippine Medical Plants (http://www.stuartxchange.org/AmericanMaidenhairFern.html)
–Missouri Botanical Gardens, Plant Finder (http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=j200)

Photo: Robert H. Mohlenbrock, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1992. Western wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. West Region, Sacramento.

Test your knowledge with this ‘True or False’ quiz on Mountain beavers (answers follow):

  1. Fur trappers nearly wiped out Northwest boomer populations.
  2. Boomers are closely related to North American and Eurasian beavers.
  3. Boomers or “mountain beavers” are related to squirrels and will climb trees.
  4. Boomers must drink one-third of their body weight each day.
  5. All beavers fall trees, build dams, and live in lodges.
  6. Mountain beavers communicate via tail slaps, which is why they are called ‘Boomers.’
  7. The largest flea known lives exclusively on Mountain beavers.
  8. Boomers have unique teeth.  
  9. Boomers are asocial most of the time.
  10. These rodents live in deep burrows.
  11. Boomers have limited ability to see and hear.
Young Mountain beaver
(courtesy NPS and USGS)

Answers:

  1. False. Trappers nearly wiped out the American beaver populations, (not the Mountain beaver).
  2. False. Mountain beavers are not even in the same genus with real beavers (genus Castor). The Mountains do have several similarities in that they are relatively large rodents, smell bad, and have brownish-grey fur. This compact rodent weighs less than 2 pounds.
  3. True. Molecular results consistently identify a ‘sister’ relationship between the mountain beavers and the squirrel family (Sciuridae). Mountain beavers have large, curved front claws perfect for climbing, will climb nearly 15 feet up a tree to forage.
  4. True. These mammals are considered to be a living fossil with primitive, inefficient kidneys. They must drink a lot of water to survive. They live in watery/moist habitats up to the tree line in areas ranging from British Columbia south through to extreme western Nevada.
  5. False. Mountain beavers are strictly herbivorous and do not build dams or lodges, or have much of a tail to slap. Typically food includes ferns, salal, nettles, fireweed, bleeding heart, salmonberry, brambles, rhododendron, and young tree saplings.  
  6. False. Slap a less than 2-inch tail? Ouch. American beavers have a large flat tail that they slap to make noise.
  7. True. Hystrichopsylla schefferi is one of the oldest fleas in evolutionary history and females can be up to .5 inches long. Fortunately, the flea only likes Mountain beavers.
  8. True. Mountain beavers have unusual tooth projections and simple form. They are ever-growing.
  9. True. This rodent is not social…except to breed. They stick very close to their home burrow at all times.
  10. True. They create tunnel networks to store food, raise young, and avoid predators. Predators include cougars, owls, skunks, weasels, and domestic dogs. Tunnels can include ten or more exits.
  11. True. Limited sight and hearing is common for animals that spend a lot of time underground.

A few surprises?

Boomers, or “Mountain beavers”, would have a tough time living up to the merits of the well-loved American beaver.

These animals can become a nuisance

If they are a problem, contact the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife for regulations and relocation options.

REFERENCE:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, beavers (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/beavers)
–Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Aplodontia-rufa (https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/aplodontia-rufa#living)
–Encylopedia Britannica, Mountain beaver (https://www.britannica.com/animal/mountain-beaver)
–USDI National Park Service, Mountain beaver (https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/nature/mountain_beaver.htm)
–Wikipedia, hystrichopsylla schefferi and Mountain beaver (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…)

Some people think vultures are ugly. More than just another ‘buzzard’
Turkey Vultures are part of Mother Nature’s Cleanup Crew.

Turkey Vulture (Royalty free Unsplash.com)

Turkey vultures have a large-wingspan up to six feet. These good sized birds (nearly three feet in length) can weigh up to five pounds.

Body feathers are dark, brownish-black with silvery-gray flight feathers on the underside. In flight, the bird seems to wobble, infrequently flapping its wings, and relying on the thermal air currents to carry it low to the ground.

The head looks small in proportion to the bird’s body and is a distinctive gnarly red with few feathers. Juveniles have gray gnarly heads.

Diet and Prey

The beak is interesting because you can see through it from one side to another–the nostrils are not divided. Unlike most birds, Turkey vultures have an excellent sense of smell to help them identify decay.

The relatively short, hooked, ivory-colored beak is weak. The vulture cannot tear the tough hides of larger animals. To solve this problem the vultures hang out with other bigger birds and clean up after.

They rarely, if ever, kill. Turkey vultures typically feed on recent kills, roadside kills, some fruits and vegetables, and fish stranded in shallow water.

Turkey vultures have flat feet that are relatively weak. The feet are poorly adapted for grasping and walking. On the ground it has an ungainly, hopping walk.

The tracks measure between 3.5 and 5.5 inches in length (including claws).

Predators and Defense

The turkey vulture has few natural predators and keen eye sight. Predators include golden and bald eagles, great horned owls, red tailed hawks, and nests can be ravaged by raccoons, opossums, and occasionally foxes.

Turkey vulture in flight (Courtesy of ODFW)

Defense

Vultures lack a syrinx which is the vocal organ for birds. Rather than graceful twitters, it grunts and hisses low with its. Young hungry birds will often grunt; adults during the courtship display will also grunt.

This bird uses rather creative defense strategies when protecting its nest, fighting, or trying to make a quick exit. The bird will hiss when feeling threatened or when fighting for a carcass.

If it cannot flee, the vulture will feign death or vomit. Even the babies will hiss and vomit. This foul-smelling substance can sting face and eyes.  

Nesting

Turkey vultures nest in sheltered areas that could include crevices, under rocks, caves, dense thickets, old buildings, and hollow trees. The vultures will nest in caves, but generally will not enter the cave except during the breeding season.

A traditional nest is not built. Eggs will rest on a flat area.

Let’s Party

These vultures are gregarious. During the mating process, several birds will gather in a circle and perform a ritualized hopping dance around the circle with wings partially spread.

They will communally roost on dead trees and manmade structures at night. They are able to lower their nighttime body temperature by about 6 degrees C. which reduces heart and respiratory rates, and blood pressure.

Range and Habitat

Turkey vultures are a permanent resident in the southern U.S. and is widespread over open country, shrub and grasslands, deserts, foothills, subtropical forest. It prefers open or semi-open areas and generally avoids heavily forested areas.

Welcome sign of spring

Vultures are a typical sign of spring and what would be spring without some cleaning? Vultures are a critical part of Mother Nature’s Clean-up crew.

As much as we might want to ignore it… cleaning up is a critical task that some body has to do. The Turkey vulture is a real tough cookie. We know it is tough… after all how many birds do you know of whose droppings will kill trees? Amazing.

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/raptors)
–Wikipedia, Turkey Vulture (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey_vulture)
–Audubon Society Field Guide (https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/turkey-vulture)