Ostrich ferns are natives of North America, as well as temperate regions of the northern hemisphere
throughout the world.
Identification: These ferns are among the largest of land ferns (vs. tree ferns, reaching heights of up to 4′ (1.3 m)). Foragers for wild edibles will recognize the "fiddleheads," or
tightly coiled baby fronds, that appear in the spring. They often appear in clusters around a central
point, leaning away from each other to produce a shape like an inverted cone as they unfurl.
As the fern matures, each fiddlehead becomes an attractive long frond that resembles an ostrich plume.
The frond becomes wider toward the end.
These fronds are sterile, and reach 4′ (1.3 m) or more in length and up to 1′ (30 cm) in width. Fertile fronds appear during the
summer, reaching up to 1′ (40 cm) in length. About a third of this length is the petiole (stem);
the rest is a compact, paddle-shaped structure that turns from green to brown, persisting through the winter.
In many ferns, sterile and fertile fronds are more similar to each other, so the stark difference between
the two in this fern is an identifying characteristic.
Edibility: Young, tightly coiled fiddleheads, the state vegetable
of Vermont, are prized by many, and are often available for sale in grocery stores in the spring. Or you
can find your own, provided that they are less than 6″ (15 cm) high and still tightly furled.
Add them to salads or boil them for 10 minutes to produce a dish like asparagus.