The Field Guides

Episode 33 : The Hart’s Tongue Fern

Hosts: Bill Michalek and Steve Fleck

Guest: Mike Serviss 

Transcribed by Joe Stormer


[Sound of footsteps]

Bill Bichalek: Hello!  And welcome to The Field Guides!  I’m Bill and I’m here with Steve.  Good evening, Steve!

Steve Fleck: Good evening, Bill!

Bill: What we’re going to today – and over the course of many future episodes – is give you the experience of what it’s like to be in the woods, in the field, and on the trail.  Every month, we pick a natural history topic, research the science behind that topic, and get you out to a natural spot to share with you everything that we’ve learned.

Steve: Wellllll . . . that . . . OR have a professional do the heavy lifting for us. 


Bill: Yeah, we’ve been slacking lately.

Steve: Yeah, so, all that is to say that we do have a special guest on this episode, and I want to throw in real quick – don’t worry, we will go back to doing our old style of episode soon enough where Bill and I stumble through topics we don’t personally work or publish in.  But for now you’re just gonna have to put up with the expert.  I’m so sorry, guys.

Bill: So last month we had Wayne Gall take us out in search for the devil crayfish, and this month, what do we have lined up?

Steve: We have Mike Serviss - from New York State Parks Recreation and Historical Preservation - taking us out to go see the hart’s tongue fern at Clark Reservation State Park.

Bill: That’s right.  The hart’s tongue fern is a VERY endangered and rare fern, definitely worth checking out.

Steve: Yeah.

Bill: So this episode with Mike came out of our relationship with New York State Parks.  Regular listeners will know that there have been two episodes in the past that we’ve done with Park employees.  Now, these folks aren’t park rangers.  They’re actually researchers and field technicians – people who are doing environmental field work as park of New York State Parks.  So we did one episode in the past on . . .

Steve: Local ecotypes.

Bill: That’s right!  And we also did an earlier one on restoring grassland habitat. So you don’t HAVE to listen to those previous two ones to appreciate this episode, but I think they were great ones.  Go back and listen to them if you haven’t already.

Steve: Yeah, it’s like our New York State Parks trilogy.

Bill: [Laughing]: That’s right!  Yeah!  But there’ll probably be more.

Steve: Yeah, yeah.  Probably.

Bill: And I do have to say before we get into it is that ferns, for me – and I think for you – it’s not one of our great specialties.

Steve: It’s always been one I wanted to get into because I think in our area we only have like a hundred species so I’m like, that’s – you could do that.

Bill: You could!

Steve: It would be easy enough to tackle, but I never got into it.  I mean I never got into it so deeply that I feel super confident around ferns.

Bill: And I do have to say that ferns, for me as I started to get into natural history, they were something that [hesitant pause] didn’t entice me in the way that wildflowers did, or trees.  There was something in college that both of us had – we’ve mentioned him before, Sandy Geffner – he had a deep and abiding passion – still does – for ferns.  And whenever he would have us out in the field and we’d stumble on some ferns, there was a lot of eye-rolling (sometimes me, too), because we knew the next forty minutes we were going to be sitting in one spot, talking about that fern.

Steve: Yeah, I do love that about Sandy.  You can go to the most beautiful place to go hiking during one of his classes and he’ll make it fifteen feet in a three hour and fifty-minute class or whatever.


Bill: Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing –

Steve: No, it was great!  I loved it. 

Bill: That’s a [Sandy?] hike.  But I do have to say that, over the years, I have come to realize that ferns – they’re like the Ducky of the plant world. 

Steve: What are you talking about?  [Laughs] What does that mean?

Bill: That’s an older reference.  Those of you who (like me in their 40s), if you ever saw Pretty in Pink, Ducky was the best friend that the main character didn’t realize was the perfect choice standing there all along. 

Steve: Yeah, yeah.


Bill: So, ferns, they’re just there.  They’re usually not, you know, standing out the way those wildflowers are, the trees are.  People walk by them, [Sigh] “Those are ferns.”

Steve: But they’re the best girl. 

Bill: So, Mike, he really just firmed that up for me – this idea that ferns have so much to offer if you’re willing to stop, take a look, and really get to know them.

Steve:  Mmhmm.

Bill: They really just have that AWESOME life cycle that Mike will go into that’s just not typical for the plants we find in our northeastern woods.

Steve: Yeah.

Bill: Yeah, it’s cool stuff.  Alright, now, before we get into the episode PROPER, Steve does have a special announcement.

Steve: Yeah!  This is a special episode because we do have a sponsor.

Bill: Woo-hoo!

Steve: Yeah!  So a few months ago Bill and I were approached by Jack from Gumleaf USA.  This company makes high-quality, super comfortable hand-made tall rubber boots, and I was actually able to meet up with Jack and he gave us a pair of his Royal Zip model to try out for ourselves.  Now, I’ve done a lot of field work – especially in wetlands – and I’ve had to wear a lot of different rubbers boots and these are EASILY the most comfortable boots that I’ve had.

Bill: Ahhh, yeah!  Veeeery comfy.

Steve: Yeah, they’re super nice!

Bill: Lotta nice little bells and whistles.

Steve: What?

Bill: Well, the average rubber boot is pretty basic –

Steve: Mmhmm.

Bill: –  and these have, you know, a nice gusseted zipper.  It has these clips up at the top that firm it up nicely.

Steve: Yeah, yeah.  So they’re really, really easy to slip on and even with that zipper there they’re still 100% waterproof.  There’s nothing to worry about.  It’s super nice.  But overall it’s pretty simple design.  They’re handcrafted to comfort and function but I do think that they look pretty good too.

Bill: Oh yeah!

Steve: Yeah.  So as I said, they’re 100% waterproof, they’re durable, and they’re made from 85% natural rubber so you don’t really have to worry about them cracking.  They have styles for men, women, and children.  And they’re great for birding, I think especially botanizing, maybe.

Bill: Yeah.  And I can’t wait until the summer so I can use them while we’re bird banding because walking through that tall grass at dawn is so wet.  It’ll be great for keeping things dry and it ALSO will keep the ticks out. 

Steve: Yeah, yeah!  And really they’re gonna be good for any outdoor activity.  So if you’re interested in a high-quality tall rubber boot, we definitely recommend visiting and exploring their products.  It’s also a great way to support us and it’ll help us to do cooler things in the future with the podcast.

Bill: So thank you to Jack for reaching out to us.

Steve: Yep!  And we’ll have a link in the episode notes and also we’ll have a clickable logo on our website for you guys to check out to.

Bill: And a couple of weeks ago I happened to have them in the back of my car and I was meeting up with a couple of my college student who I took out for a field trip.  It was kind of a forty degree, kind of a wintery day and I had one genius show up at the field trip wearing sneakers and no socks.  [Laughter] So I made him put on the boots and by the end of the hike he did say that they were some of the most comfortable boots he’d ever worn.

Steve: Good, good.

Bill: Alright, so with that, folks, we’re going to start the episode proper and we hope that you enjoy getting to meet Mike Serviss and the hart’s tongue fern.

[Change of ambient noise]

Bill: So Mike, thanks for much for giving up a Saturday morning to come out here with us.

Mike Serviss: Yeah, you’re welcome.

Bill: Happy first day of Fall.

Steve: Oh, yeah, you’re right!

Bill: The Autumnal Equinox.  So we’re out here on a nice, cool fall day finally.

Steve: Oh yeah!

Bill: It’s actually quite comfortable out here.  And, Mike, I think a good way to start is to give the listeners a sense of your background, how did you end up standing in these woods with these two goofballs in front of you?

[Distant sound of a train]

Mike: Yeah, that’s a really good question.  There could be a long story here; I guess so. [Laughter]  I guess I’ll start with – I was a bit of a latecomer to the game of being in the environmental field.  I was working in a bank and worked, like, random desk jobs for a while.  I started by – I was working at a medical device company, actually.  I just wasn’t really fulfilled so I started volunteering at the Utica Zoo (I’m from the Utica area) and really got into conservation from that, and decided to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry for conservation biology.  And from there I kind of just naturally progressed into a love of all things plants and plant ecology, plant propagation.  And I just kind of fell into this project with the American hart’s tongue fern with Dr. Danny [Danilo] Fernando’s lab over at SUNY-ESF.  It became my master’s project when I did my master’s and then I started working for State Parks through that and now I’m still working for State Parks four years later.  And that’s why I’m here.

Bill: How old were you when you made the switch from all of your previous life to your life in the woods?

Mike: Yeah, the past life to now.  I was probably twenty-five, twenty-six years old.  So came back as a non-traditional student.  That was about eight years ago or so. 

Steve: That’s very similar to my story.  I think I switched over at about twenty and I only just went back to my master’s program now in plant physiology.

Mike: Yeah, I guess the message is that it’s never too late, you know?

Bill: That’s awesome!  Alright, so, it sounds like you had kind of a dream trajectory of you came out of school and it doesn’t sound like you really had a hard time looking for a job.

Mike: No, no, not really.  I was working at ESF doing the teaching assistant thing and my master’s research brought me here because of, obvious, we have so many populations of hart’s tongue ferns right here and it’s just ten minutes down the road from SUNY-ESF.  I started working here in the summers as a seasonal and then about a year and a half, two years ago they brought me on full-time cuz I guess they like me.


Bill: So at that time did you have a perception of, “Wow, I’m really lucky cuz it’s such a – it’s a cliché but it’s true that it can be very difficult to find a position.

Mike: Oh, yeah!  It’s a super competitive field.  You know, any thing related to the environment, especially with the Forestry School right next door, there’s just so many students coming out every year that are highly qualified.  It’s a really great school so there’s a lot of competitiveness so it was nice just to fall into a thing, especially as a thing that I love to do so much.  It’s a really great job.

Bill: And you said that you were doing work with the hart’s tongue fern with your graduate work?  So was that something that you went into that you were interested in?  Or was it more something that an advisor recommended?

Mike: So I kind of did the double dip thing where I did my undergrad and my grad work at SUNY-ESF.  And I learned of the project as an undergrad with Dr. Fernando there and kind of becoming familiar with the project I thought it was really interesting as a reintroduction project.  I love working in the field but I also like to mix it up – do some lab work, some greenhouse work, some stuff like that.  I get bored doing the same thing over and over again so it seemed like an ideal fit because it brought me into the lab.  It brought me into the greenhouse.  It brought me into the field, and I got to do all of these interesting things as a result.

Bill: I bet there’s a lot of people listening out there who are envious of your position.

Mike: They’re probably not envious of my paycheck, [laughter] but I do love my job and that’s the most important thing.

Bill: For sure.  One little anecdote that I’ll share is – Steve and I, in college, we went at different times but we had one of the same teachers, was Sandy Geffner.  We’ve mentioned him on mic before and I’ll always remember – he has a passion for ferns.  Some people find that passion overwhelming in terms of how much time he’ll spend talking about ferns on a given hike, right?  [Laughter]  But I remember him telling us once that not many people know a lot about ferns so if you ever want to pick an area where you will be the expert on almost any group that you’re in, choose ferns because even if you just do a LITTLE bit of work learning about ferns, you’re going to know more than about 90% of the people out there. 

Mike: Yeah, that’s definitely a good point.  You could probably say the same about fungi and you could probably say the same specifically about plants, fungi-like ones.  You could probably say the same about moss; there’s very few moss experts.  I was lucky enough to have a moss expert on my committee for my graduate program, Robin [Wall] Kimmerer, who’s a pretty famous bryologist. 

Steve: Oh! 

Mike: And so that was fantastic.  I still don’t know very much about mosses except their lifecycle.

Steve: And she’s also one of the go-to authors for mosses for the layperson, as well.

Bill: Is she?

Mike: Yeah, she’s spectacular. 

Bill: I don’t want the listeners to think that I’m talking down about these different areas because I think when I started out as an interpretive naturalist, I would kind of avoid those things because I had this bias that these things are boring and I think most of that comes from me not knowing a lot about them but spending time with people who DO know about them, I mean, they have just as interesting stories to tell as ANYTHING else that’s out here.  It’s just most people don’t know about them.  They haven’t taken the time to learn about them.

Mike: It’s true.  And fern identification can be pretty hard because sometimes it’s just the smallest details that differentiate one species from another.  In the case of the genus Dryopteris, the wood ferns, they hybridize a lot, too, so it’s like you’re looking at a fern and it’s like, “What am I look at?  What is this?”  They keep you on your toes, you know.

Bill: Yeah, you get that with wildflowers, too, trying to identify a violet, right?

Mike: True.

Bill: But I would say that for the layperson out there who may be thinking, “You know, I want to learn more about ferns,” you definitely can identify ferns by general groups.  There’s certain things you can look at and say, “I know that that’s a wood fern.  Or I know that that’s in the spleenwort family.”

Mike: Yeah, absolutely.  So wood ferns you’ll typically find scales at the bases of the stipes or the bases of the stems and they’re kind of those highly segmented or fragmented or – I don’t know what would be the right term – divided, highly-divided kind of ferns.  We can look at – we’ve got a wood fern right here in front of us.

Bill: Oh, yeah, look at that!  It’s right under our feet.  So tell me if I’m right, so again, I don’t a ton about ferns.  I can ID the Christmas fern, the sensitive fern but, when I look down, I pretend that I know what I’m talking about if I have a group out and they say, “What kind of fern is this?”  I say, “Well, if there’s scales on the – the stipe, right? – and it’s divided, the leaves are readily divided, it’s probably a wood fern.”  Am I making that up?

Mike: You’re probably correct, depending on where you are.  In this park, most ferns that look like this are going to be wood ferns so if you’re like, “[Uncertain tone of voice] Uhh, it’s a wood fern,” you’d probably be right, even by accident.  So the scales on the bottom of the stipe or the base of the stipe is usually a good indicator that you’re looking at a wood fern, for example.

Bill: It’s nice to know that I’m not spreading misinformation.

Mike: Definitely.  And for this particular fern, there are other features that you can use to identify it that are sometimes very intuitive.  So we can see here (so ferns we know produce ferns as opposed to seeds like flowering plants or gymnosperms) so on the underside of the frond we can see where the spores are produced in the sorus and these ones tend to be marginal (around the margins of the leaflets here).  Actually, this one isn’t displaying it very well but they’re right on the edges here and this one would be Dryopteris marginalis, or the marginal shield fern – the marginal wood fern.

Bill: I’ve heard of it!  Again, for the listeners, sometimes the spores - you’re going to find them on separate, fertile fronds, right?

Mike: Yeah, that’s an important identification characteristic as well.  They’re not always on the actual vegetative frond.  They’re sometimes on completely separate structures that look totally different fro the rest of the fern.  They’re called fertile fronds or fertile stalks.

Bill: So like the sensitive fern?

Mike: The sensitive fern does that, the ostrich fern, cinnamon fern.  A lot of different ferns do that. 

Bill: I’m glad we’re going over some basics because this is the first episode we’ve ever done with ferns, right?

Steve: Yeah.  We’ve mentioned them briefly.  I think we’ve seen cinnamon fern maybe in Allegheny but we haven’t really talked about fern yet.

Bill: This is good!  So you’ve given us some background on yourself.  Could you give us a little background on the site, Clark Reservation - where we are.

Mike: This is Clark Reservation State Park.  We’re in Jamesville, New York, just southeast of Syracuse, New York.  And this is a really interesting park.  It was originally purchased – the land around it was purchased by Mary Clark Thompson in 1915 and she was the daughter of a former governor of New York, Myron Clark.  She originally bought the land around Glacier Lake – which is the lake here – because she was interested in geology.  Geology is a really important aspect of this park.  It’s all limestone (dolomitic limestone) and has a lot of cliffs and ravines and things like that and it’s really important for our plant communities here because it provides an array of different microclimates – very cool, shady areas; very sunny ridges.  We have a lot of different plant diversity because of that.  But the interesting connection with Mary Clark Thompson is that she had purchased this land and donated it to New York State.  It became a state park officially in 1926 and she also built greenhouses that are currently owned by New York State Parks – or operated by New York State Parks – near Canandaigua called Sonnenberg Gardens, which you guys previously filmed a podcast on local ecotypes at Sonnenberg Gardens so it’s an interesting connection.

Bill: She keeps popping up!

Mike: That was her summer home and she loved geology and that’s why she purchased the land here – just so happened to have some very rare and currently endangered species here. 

Bill: So I don’t know if we mentioned it in the intro but the fern that we’re looking for today – the hart’s tongue fern – is a threatened species, right?  Or is it endangered?

Mike: So federally it’s threatened.  State, it’s endangered.

Bill: Okay, alright.

Steve: Got it.

Bill: Has that been recently upgraded?

Mike: Yeah, so just last year it was upgraded from state threatened to state endangered.

Bill: Yeah, right, so we were looking at the New York Natural Heritage Program website and it needs to be updated, then. 

Mike: Yes!  They come out with a report every year or so, or every I’ll say five years actually.  So Steve Young, the chief botanist for New York State comes out with a report and the last one was October 2017, so about a year ago now.  And it was updated on that report.  So their website’s a little behind currently.

Bill: Either way, it’s in trouble.

Mike: One thing that I think is important is not to confuse rare with endangered.  Now, some things are inherently rare but they’re not necessarily at risk.  So the hart’s tongue fern is rare but the reason that it’s threatened or endangered is more because of habitat loss and because of population decline over periods of time.  So it’s not just that it’s rare that equates to it being endangered.  It’s more to do with its losses over time.

Bill: So can you give people an idea of its current status in terms of where you’re going to find it?  Where are population levels at?

Mike: Where you’re going to find it in New York State is only in two counties.  You’re going to find it in Onondaga and Madison Counties in New York State.  We’re currently in Onondaga County. 

Bill: And Madison’s . . .

Mike: Madison’s our neighboring county. 

Bill: So pretty much just this are in New York State, around Syracuse.

Mike: Right.  Within like a sixty-mile span along the thruway or so.  So it actually exists along the Niagara escarpment and this is the Niagara escarpment that goes all the way through-

Steve: I was going to say, “We’ve got one of those.”

Mike: It historically was in the Niagara Gorge out there or there’s records of it being out there.  And then it goes up through Canada, through Ontario, and there’s several hart’s tongue populations in Ontario.  That’s probably where they’re doing the best is up there.  And it actually connects with the upper peninsula of Michigan where there’s also about eleven or so populations of hart’s tongue ferns.

Bill: We were talking about this before we turned on the mic as Steve and I were driving up and the information that we read said 90% of hart’s tongue fern populations are in New York State, but then you corrected it.

Mike: Yeah.  So it used to be that within the United States I should say – because they have significant populations in Canada – but within the United States New York used to be able to make the claim that we had about 92% of all the hart’s tongue fern in all the United States but within the last couple of years they found a population in Michigan that’s several thousand strong.  So that number significantly dropped.  I don’t know exactly what it is.  But we do have a claim to fame for state parks in New York State in that (between Clark Reservation Park and nearby Chittenango Falls State Park in Madison County) we have 94 to 95 percent of all hart’s tongue ferns in New York State. 

Bill: Wow!

Mike: So we have a big responsibility for taking care of them.

Steve: So a little lesser claim to fame but still a claim to fame. 

Bill: Alright!  So let’s go see it!

Mike: Yeah! Let’s check it out!  Just over this way.  Watch the poison ivy – lots of it around here.

[Sound of footsteps]

Bill: Holy cow, there is a lot of it.

Mike: So yeah, we’re here.  [Exclamations]  So recently, there’s a guy on Instagram, he’s @nystatebotany or @nybotany.  His name’s Scott and I’ve brought him out here to see these and he came out recently.  I saw him and he posted some photos of these and he referred to – I think he had the best description for this population – he called it “the juiciest hart’s fern tongue population in New York”, [laughter] which I thought was pretty accurate. 

Bill: Put that on the brochure!

Mike: So this is definitely one of the most impressive populations of hart’s tongue fern you find definitely in New York State.  You might find other ones in Canada that are more impressive than this but these plants are larger than any other hart’s tongue ferns I’ve ever seen.  And you can see that they just kind of – it’s almost like a monoculture of them up there, like this one spot.

Bill: Let’s give folks a visual.  So folks, we’re standing kind of in a hollow.  Like one side is a steep incline going up, what would you say?  Maybe two hundred feet, maybe?  Maybe a hundred?

Steve: Yeah, mossy, rocky incline.

Bill: And then we’re standing kind of hip-deep in ferns.

Mike: Yeah, Goldie’s wood ferns is what these are.

Bill: Oh, great!  And then it’s kind of a mossy woods here and up on the slope above us is just these big, this big cluster of hart’s tongue ferns.  So why don’t give them people – and again, I don’t know if we went over this in the intro – give people – what does the hart’s tongue fern look like. 

Mike: That’s a really great thing.  I love this plant.  So one of the reasons why I love it is that it’s so unique looking.  It almost looks like something that you would find in the tropics.  It’s got an undivided frond, a simple frond.  It looks like a strap, almost.  It kind of looks leathery, like you can see they’re kind of shiny here.  And earlier in the season they’ll be this bright wintergreen color when they first pop out and they look amazing actually and about May or June is my favorite time to see them.  But this is also spectacular looking at them here.  But yeah, they’re just these clumps of straps, like almost like green straps coming out of the thing.  So the American hart’s tongue fern – I should specify that we’re talking about the American variety here.  The American hart’s tongue fern, if you dissect the name – so a hart is actually a red deer or a term used for a red deer.  Some hunters might know that but it’s not a commonly known term and –

Bill: Steve didn’t know.


Steve: I didn’t know.  And it is spelled differently, right?  It’s not h-e-A-r-t, right?

Mike: Right, h-A-r-t.  And it’s actually an English term which is probably why because there’s a European hart’s tongue fern that’s common in England and this is a totally different subspecies that we have here.  Genetically different, morphologically different, all that.  The hart tongue is in reference to the shape and the appearance of the frond that looks like just a really big deer’s tongue.


Bill: Like a REALLY loooooong deer tongue.

Mike: Yeah, yeah, it’s really cool.  It’s a really interesting plant.  If you see it, you’ll definitely know, “That’s different.”  That’s not something you’d usually see and you might not even think it’s a fern.

Bill: I was just thinking that!  People who may not know a ton about ferns, they may see that and not necessarily say, “Oh, that’s a fern.”

Mike: So you’d look at these Goldie’s wood ferns in front of us and you see this is clearly a fern.  Like you feel like you’re in the Jurassic/Triassic Era.  They’re big ol’ ferns and they look like what you’d expect a fern to look like.  And you look right next to it at that hart’s tongue fern and it’s like, hmm, I know some people have mistaken them for even some kind of sedges or some kind of lilies.

Steve: I was about to say with the sedges that I think if I looked really quick, for the first half second that I looked up there I’d be like, “Oh!  That’s maybe a bunch of plantainleaf sedge.”  Maybe if I looked for another second or two I’d be like, “Oh, wait a second!”  Although they are wavy, similar to how the plantainleaf sedge is a little wavy like that, it’s different enough to I don’t think that you’d get confused for two long. 

Bill: It doesn’t fit the usual search image for a fern. 

Mike: Right.  And then if you were to go up and inspect it, if you flip the frond over and look at it – I don’t know, do you want to step over here?

Steve: So we’re headed towards a lighter green individual.  Do you think that’s a trick of the light or do you think that’s actually a lighter green than the ones on the slope there?

Mike: I think it’s probably about the same color as the ones on the slope because, I don’t know, it’s just so dramatic.  These habitats are all so dramatic.  So yeah if you were to come up here and flip over the frond, [exclamations of awe] you’ll see.  The scientific name for these is Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum.  And what scolopendrium refers to is actually the appearance of the sori, or where the spores are produced here, to a centipede cuz scolopendrium is derived from “centipede” in Greek or Latin, I can’t remember which one.  So that’s where it gets its name; it’s from that.  And it’s spleenwort, hence Asplenium genus.

Steve: So these are very linear sori, right?

Mike: Correct.

Bill: Cuz you usually – in my head when I think of sori, turn them over and you’ll find round.  Sometimes, but not always.

Steve: Sometimes round, sometimes kidney bean shaped.  But usually you don’t think of them as being so long and stretched out like these ones are.

Bill: Each of them, on the back, you would say what is about half- to three-quarters of an inch long, especially as you get up toward the tip?

Mike: Yeah, I’d say it’s about a centimeter or centimeter and a half, or so. 

Bill: So shorter than I’m talking about.

Mike: Maybe half an inch to –

Bill: And I have to take issue with the centipede reference.  I’d say it definitely looks more like a caterpillar.  Don’t you think?

Steve: Which one has more legs?  Millipedes or centipedes?

Bill: Millipedes.

Steve: I don’t know why I think millipede more than centipede because aren’t their legs more exposed?  Centipedes usually have them under their bodies, while millipedes can have them out a little bit?

Bill: You have it opposite.

Mike: It’s the other way around.

Steve: Oh, see, this is why –

Mike: This is why you’re not a taxonomist. 


Bill: But either way, they’re definitely distinctive, wouldn’t you say?

Mike: Yes.  Quite.  So one way that we can tell the difference between the American variety and the European variety is typically with the European variety these sori where these spores are produced would go from the tip of the frond and all the way down even to the base here, where in American hart’s tongue fern we rarely find them going more than halfway or three quarters of the way down.  So it’s a good morphological feature.  You might see a younger one where they might go three quarters of the way down.  But it’s a good distinctive feature.

Bill: We did see reference to that in what we were reading on the way here that the spores, the spore bodies only go about halfway down or a little farther than that but they didn’t compare that to the European one.  So is the European one fairly widespread?  Could you find that around here?

Mike: So that’s an interesting question.  So, I have one on my desk at work.


Bill: Well we did find – honestly when we looked it up online – honestly most of the ones that we found we nurseries selling varieties.

Mike: Probably they would have the European variety.  Most of what’s commercially available.  So one of my office mates when I was at ESF in school was doing genetics work.  He was comparing the commercially available varieties with the American hart’s tongue fern and the commercially available ones are almost always of European genetic origin.  There’s an interesting thing with this particular population with the genetics, also.  So, they found this is the most genetically diverse population – significantly more so than any other hart’s tongue population that was sampled throughout its range.  It has a lot of genetics in common with the European hart’s tongue fern.  So there’s a few different theories with why this is and why they’re so much bigger than the other hart’s tongue ferns we find.  So when they did sampling, they did a transect through and they found the ones more on the outsides of the transects – so on either side of this main clump here – were more American looking in the genetics, and the ones toward the middle as you move closer got more and more European in their genetic makeup.  So it’s thought that at some point someone may have actually planted European hart’s tongue fern out here because that was common to do early in the early 1900s before we knew too much about, you know, genetic swamping and hybrids and all that kind of stuff.  And so it’s thought that it’s possible – we don’t know for sure – but it’s possible that some of these in here are hybrids, which would explain their larger size, also.  And they do tend, on these ones (not this one in particular that I’m looking at), to sori to go further down the frond in this population than they do in most of the other populations.

Steve: Interesting!

Mike: So there’s sort of this air of mystery to this population that –

Bill: They might have a little European in them?

Mike: We know they’ve got a little European in them.  [Laughter]  But how it got there and what it means, that’s for debate still.

Steve: So I wanted to say something about the morphology.  I was was kind of worried that – we read that the base of the frond, at the base of the strap-like thing, there was going to be a heart-shaped base to it.  I’m glad that it’s not that heart-shaped.  It actually looks more like one of those little plastic things that you close your loaf of bread with.  Do you know what I’m talking about?  So, I was just worried that there might be some confusion with, you know, the hart and that the base is heart-like.  But it’s not!  It just pinches off a loaf of bread that you’re trying to keep fresh.  But it is interesting, the base of it there. 

Bill: Yeah, again – not typically fern-like.

Mike: Definitely.  There’s another fern that we have in decent amounts here; it’s fairly rare in most of its range here.  It’s the walking fern - Asplenium rhizophyllum.  Those are really interesting.  They’re a relative of hart’s tongue fern, the closest one that we have here in the park.  They’re much smaller but they also have a base kind of like that.  But what they do is that they’re much smaller but they grow out the tips really really really long and they sprout a new fern from that. 

Bill: That’s why it’s called “walking”. 

Mike: Yeah, that’s why they call it the walking fern.  That’s probably the closest relative and the best indicator species for the hart’s tongue fern that I know of.  If you find walking fern around, you’re more likely to find hart’s tongue fern around, and that’s actually something that I used when I was looking for areas to transplant these.  I guess getting into a project that I was working on for my master’s was a reintroduction project.  We used the GIS models, the habitat models, expert opinion, and our knowledge of the area.  But also just going around and finding in the park and places where we wanted to put them, where walking fern was growing was not a bad indicator of where they might also grow. 

Steve: Now what did you say that the species name for walking fern was again?

Mike: It’s Asplenium rhizophyllum. 

Steve: The walking part has nothing to do with the rhizome.

Mike: No, but what it actually means is sort of “planting leaf”.  Phyllum being the leaf or phyla being the leaf and rhiza or rhizo meaning like “planting like a rhizome”, “like a stem”.

Bill: So for listeners who don’t know, what is a rhizome?

Mike: So a rhizome is an underground step which is typical of most ferns and isalso  how a lot of ferns tend to spread.  Like these glade ferns have really extensive rhizome systems.  So what you’re actually seeing when you see a fern is the aboveground leaves but they all will typically have an underground stem that would be more analogous to what you’d think of like a tree trunk or something like that.  So that’s their main source of where they store their starches and their carbohydrates and all that good stuff and they shoot up their leaves from under the ground.

Bill: So you mentioned your project, the reintroduction project that you were doing.  Have we talked much about the habitat requirements of hart’s tongue?  You mentioned it a little bit.

Mike: Not much!  So when you guys were talking earlier about the slope and how steep it is and everything – so there was a lot of great research done on this in the 90s by a professor at ESF called Don Leopold.  He was on my committee as well.  He wrote the book on trees in the Northeast.

Steve: Another notable author. 

Mike: He’s very well-known, yeah.  I had a lot of conservation all-stars on my team.

Bill: You’re in the right place, right?

Mike: It was pretty intimidating but it was very helpful in the long-run.  Really intelligent folks.  But he did a lot of research on habitat requirements for the hart’s tongue fern in the late 80s, early 90s and what we’re actually looking at here is what we’d call a talus slope and what would be above it would be a calcareous cliff.  So what happens over time is rocks will fall off of the cliff and build up at an angle here and then eventually organic matter – leaves, everything – will fill it in so you get some somewhat thin soils but really nutrient rich soil.  And hart’s tongue fern absolutely love calcium and magnesium, which is what is in this limestone that is what these cliffs are made of.  It’s all dolomitic limestone so very rich in calcium and magnesium.  So we would call it a calciphile – a plant that absolutely requires calcium to grow.  That’s why we’d find it along the Niagara Escarpment and you kind of know where to look for it based on those characteristics. 

Bill: And the walking fern must have similar requirements?

Mike: I think that they can range out a little more than that so the walking fern isn’t always a good indicator of it but it’s the best one that we have.  So other important things about the habitat are drainage.  Hart’s tongue ferns are really susceptible to root rot and that’s why they grow up on these slopes, we believe, and not too much down in areas like this because it’s too wet down there.  It seeps through all the cracks in the rocks and it kind of rolls off.  So propagating hart’s tongue fern – American hart’s tongue fern – is probably one of the most difficult ferns to propagate in every book that I’ve read on it.  So it’s daunting, you can imagine, as I came into that for my project; this is going to be a hard thing to do.  But yeah, root rot is one of the big issues that we have with that. 

Bill: So how’d you do? 

Mike: We did okay!  [Laughter]  We did alright.  So it’s funny; one of my first things that I had to do as a graduate student was to invite a speaker to come to the campus and do a seminar on plant reintroduction.  We got this guy – great guy from Oregon – Tom Kaye.  He’s a plant reintroduction specialist.  He runs the Institute [for] Applied Ecology at Corvallis, Oregon.  We got him to come out and do a seminar and here I am, I’m a new grad student, you know, I just did this think.  I’m like, “Yeah, I got this guy to come out; it was great.”  First thing that he says in his presentation, he’s like, “The one thing that plants love to do – or reintroduced plants love to do – is DIE.”  [Laughter]  And you can imagine me sitting there; terror just came over me.  I just got into this losing battle but, no, we did pretty well and we found out a lot about it.  I could maybe talk about that a little more in a moment.  But to get back to the habitat, another significant thing about the habitat – the way these basins are shaped, they actually maintain a cooler microclimate in terms of air temperature and higher humidity than any of the adjacent forests around it.  You get these areas where – and you’ll notice that they only grow at mid-slope.  They don’t really reach to the bottom.  They don’t really jump over the top of that cliff too much onto the flatter areas.  They’re so sensitive to climate and that’s one thing that we’ve never really been able to figure out and we have theories on why they’re only at midslope, and why they never go above or beyond.  Something to do with microclimate and probably the drainage, and possibly snowpack as well – which is an interesting thing.  Yeah, they’re just a really mysterious plant despite all of the research from Don Leopold; there are still elements that we don’t.  They’re really one of the more well-studied plants in the area for an endangered or a threatened species; it still just has an air of mystery about it.

Bill: And this probably goes back to what you were saying before, how even in historical times when there was more habitat available, because it had such specific requirements, it was probably never a ubiquitous species. 

Mike: No, it probably was more so, though, like way way back in the glacial age.  Because there are two – I forgot to mention – there are two other kinds of relic populations in Tennessee and Alabama, and they exist down there in sinkholes, like cave sinkholes. 

Bill: We did see that right?  In those southern areas, just in those sinkholes.

Mike: My theory is that at one time they were more widespread and common back, you know, ten thousand years ago.  When the glaciers receded and the climate changed they really got relegated to these sinkholes in Tennessee and Alabama and these plunge basins with these steep slopes that are almost always north-facing slopes, too, because a south-facing slope will get too much sun and will dry out too quick.  So we know very specifically north-to-east-facing slopes, sixty-degree slope plus-or-minus, calcareous slope, magnesium and calcium – we know all these things to do but we don’t quite understand WHY.  Why, in that particular spot?  Why isn’t that, right over there, too?  You look fifty feet to your right; there’s none over there!  It’s the same as over here!  It’s a really weird plant.

Bill: So you have some of the pieces but not all of them.

Mike: Yeah, exactly.  It always keeps you on your toes.  There’s always more to learn.

Steve: Now, are there any species that reliably associate with it?  Like tree species or –

Bill: Calcium-loving species?

Steve: I’m just trying to think what other connections there could be.

Mike: So typically, in terms of the tree composition around them would be not that dissimilar from what we’re seeing here.  So we’ve got American basswood, we’ve got yellow birch, we’ve usually got eastern hophornbeam, sugar maple obviously is a big one.  Generally, it would be northeastern hardwood kind of forest type species.  We do occasionally have a mixed in eastern hemlock or so but you’ll notice that around the base of the hemlock that you’d don’t usually see any hart’s tongue growing around the base of it.  There’s a couple reason reasons for that (or a couple things that we believe about that anyways), is that 1) it probably contributes to lowering the acidity of the soil around it and they like circumneutral soils we know, for the pH.  And also it blocks snow from coming down and laying a blanket over them over the winter.  So Syracuse, as you know, is one of the – no – THE snowiest city in the United States. 

Bill: More than Buffalo?!

Mike: Metropolitan area, yeah.  So, yeah, we get lots of snow.  And part of that is thought to be really important for protecting our hart’s tongue fern from our freezing temperatures in the winter, which we also enjoy.

Bill: Are they evergreen?

Mike: They are evergreen and you’ll see for instance on this one that’s here, if you lift up the new fronds you’ll see remnants of the old fronds somewhere around here.  This one’s pretty buried.  Some of them are more easy to see, like maybe up in there.  They’ll look like this but maybe more flattened in the spring.  And they’ll shoot up the new fronds with the old fronds still there.  So they’re semi-evergreen, you could say.  They persist under the snow but over the course of the summer the next year they’ll fade away.

Bill: The new set of leaves takes over.

Mike: Right.  Oh yeah, so the hemlock with the snow, they block some of the snow coming down so there’s not as much cover from ice and freezing temperatures, so that probably damages some of the ferns, especially when they’re really small, when they’re little “sporelings”, we call them.  It’s like the equivalent of a seedling.  And I have actually marked one off that I found up there; we can go take a look at that in a moment. 

Steve: There’s a pretty small one right down there.  So is the one that you found even smaller than that?

Mike: Oh, MUCH!  This one would be considered an immature one cuz it’s not producing spores yet.  It takes them about four to eight years to reach maturity, a very slow-growing plant.  That’s one of the difficulties in propagating them, too, because after two or threes you’ve only got a plant that’s a couple inches long; they’re not very big.  And they can live – we don’t know how long they can live.  It’s so weird, not to know how long they can live for.  But we estimate that it’s probably in the range of thirty to fifty years.  Which isn’t unusual for a lot of ferns. 

Bill: Have we mentioned yet how long the average frond is?  I don’t think we have, have we?

Steve: No, I don’t think so.

Mike: No, so you’re probably looking at, for an average frond, this one that we’re looking at here in front of us, this one is probably a little bit smaller that average for a mature one but you’re talking probably somewhere in the range of forty to sixty, seventy centimeters.  And the longest ones that I’ve found were seventy-five to eighty centimeters.  Sorry I do everything in metric cuz that’s just how we have to do it so, I don’t know, what’s the equivalent?  Let’s see, divide it by 2.4 and that’s how many inches you got?  Yeah, twenty, twenty-five inches, something like that.

Bill: And this immature one that’s just a couple of feet away from the one that we’re looking at, those fronds we would say – lets do it in inches – what would you say?  Two, three inches long?

Steve: Yeah, not more than three inches.

Mike: You’re probably looking at eight-nine centimeters, not much more than that.

Bill: So lets go look at the sporeling.

Mike: Yeah, lets go take a look at the sporeling.

Steve: And watch your step.

Mike: We’re gonna go up diagonally along the slope.  And watch the rocks; some of the rocks look stable but they’re not.

Steve: Oh, I was talking about the trampling.

Mike: AND also trampling any ferns.  They’re very sparse through here so you should be okay.  There’s just one right here.

Mike: Alright.  So, as you can see, working in this habitat is very difficult.  The rocks are pretty loose.  Sometimes, you know, there’s nowhere that you can step without almost stepping on a hart’s tongue fern in these spots, so it’s very careful, surgical work that we do around here.  So now I want to show you one of the sporelings.  I guess a little background in fern biology.  Ferns reproduce by spores; we’ve been talking about that.  But they don’t just grow from the spore into the fern that you see.  They start by producing a gametophyte, or a prothallus, which is basically just a little green structure maybe the size of your pinky nail that’s maybe a cell layer thick or two cell layers thick.  And on that structure they have the sperm and the egg.  And ferns require a film of water to reproduce – so a raindrop, a small puddle, something like that, a rock crevice in this case, will provide that water and that’s how the sperm swims to the egg – when it’s coated with water.  So what happens then is that you get little ferns produced, like that size. 

[Exclamations of amazement] 

Mike: So you can see that this is growing right out of the rock; like it’s literally on the rock. 

Bill: It’s like a quarter inch?  Tiny!

Mike: And they’re very very small, yep.  So this would have been a new sporeling produced this season.  This would have sprouted out from the gametophyte, from the egg.  Jeez, within the last month of two?

Steve: Wow.

Mike: It’s very tiny.  So in the lab when we would be growing these for our reintroduction project, we would start them off in our petri dishes with sterilized soil in them so you get the gametophyte growing.  In the lab it takes about ninety days before you get a sporeling?  Out here –

Bill: You gotta be pretty patient!

Mike: Fern growing is not as hard as a lot of people think.  Maybe this fern is not a good one to start on, but it is a patient person’s game, for sure.  You’re not gonna just put a seed in and have it sprout up to a big ol’ plant in the course of a couple months.  You’re gonna sew a spore; you’re gonna get a gametophyte in about three months, you’re gonna get a sporeling in about six months, and it’s gonna be able this size (which is real tiny).  And then when you see the one down there that looked probably like four years old, it only had fronds that were about two-three inches long.  So it’s a very patient person’s game.  And these ones are to keep alive for a long time, so yeah.  It’s a lot of very – what’s the term – patient work.  But anyways, so we would grow them in petri dishes, actually, at EFS, and when the gametophytes were mature, when we knew they had sperm and egg, we would flood the dishes with water so that we knew that the sperm was swimming in and hopefully crossbreeding with other gametophytes in the dish and we’d get a little bit of genetic diversity going on – not selfing, it’s almost like self-pollinating if they were to do it on their own.  And then we get these little guys.

Bill: So how long would you be growing them in a controlled environment before you would plant them. 

Mike: That is an excellent question and that was actually like the main focus of my thesis – was how long, what life stage do you have to grow them to to plant them out in the environment and get some sort of appreciable survival of them.  So we did everything from – we did a pilot study where we just sowed spores out (didn’t get any growth from that); when we came to the main part of the study we partially germinated the spores so they produce a little filament called a protonema, it’s about six-seven cells long.  We transplanted those in these little rock crevices and things like that.  We transplanted gametophytes themselves.  So that little structure about the size of your pinky nail that has the sperm and the egg, we put them out when they were about mature and ready to reproduce.  We transplanted sporelings a little larger than that but about six months, eight months old, some of them about a year or so old.  And I should specify that a sporeling is a little fern that’s less than an inch in length of the frond.  It’s not really a life stage; it’s just something that we created to differentiate them from the rest of them.  And then we had plants that were grown for abut three to five years.  So I inherited those.

Steve: [Laughing] I’m like, “Long master’s!”

Mike: Yeah, those ones – they started propagation and experimentation and all that before my master’s and I inherited a lot of those plants.

Steve: Good deal!

Mike: Yes, that was nice.  But I grew most of the younger ones myself, which was definitely easier than, well, I had to keep the other ones alive, which was tough.  So we did that and what we found was not only the longer you grew them the better you did, but the older ones we divided into two separate categories.  So there were ones that we attempted to acclimatize to the outdoor environment, to their natural environment using a cold room in a greenhouse at ESF and just changing the light regime and all that stuff.  And then we took some and put them outside in pots and overwintered them outside.  And so not only do you grow them for three-to-five years before you get appreciable survival, you HAVE to acclimatize them to the outdoors. 

Bill: So the ones that you did in the room didn’t do as well?

Mike: No.  Not at all.  So the ones that were outdoors acclimatized, we saw somewhere on average about a thirty to forty survival rate. [Laughter]  Which, now I’ve given presentations for U.S. Fish and Wildlife because they’re a big part of our project as well (being federally listed) and there’s an animal biologist in the room and she’s like, “Oh, that sucks!  Thirty percent?”  I was like, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no.”  I was like, “With animals, that would probably suck.”

Steve: I don’t even know, though, if you think about birds, what’s their survival rate, lets say past their first year?  Good luck, ornithologists or avian biologists!

Mike: Yeah, so what you would consider “success” is really wide-ranging, depending on the species that you’re working with.  So we’re working with a species that’s extremely climatically sensitive, has such really specific habitat requirements, and is just really like – we know a lot about it but there’s really something we can’t put our finger on with it.  So to get something like thirty to forty percent survival, even if it’s just in that category, most of the other ones all died for the most part.  So now we know something about how to go about doing this properly.  And I should mention that this is not the first time that people have tried this.  People have been trying to reintroduce hart’s tongue ferns since the 1920s because there was a population right nearby that ended up being quarried, unfortunately.

Steve: Oh, no. 

Mike: Yeah, so there’s a huge quarry not too far from here, about two miles long, that apparently was just as beautiful had meromictic lakes, everything like we have here, really awesome, awesome area.  And apparently there were some of the biggest populations of hart’s tongue ferns in the state over there that I’ve read.  They ended up transplanting some of those here because they knew it was going to become a quarry so actually professors at Syracuse University, Dr. Mildred Faust who I should mention, was a female botany professor and botanist at a time when most females weren’t in it, did a lot of work on hart’s tongue fern.  We owe her a great depth.  She passed away in 1988 or so but she did excellent work on the hart’s tongue fern, was involved in a project where they transplanted them INTO Clark Reservation here in the 1930s and none of them survived. 

Steve: So adults don’t do that well either, they have to be a certain young age.

Mike: Well, they – it – it really just depends on the – they really might not have put them at the right – I read a report that says that they might have got washed away, like there was a rain event.  So maybe they just didn’t get them under the rock crevices right and they got washed away and this and that.  But as a result of the quarrying, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden started propagating these and they [laughing] perhaps against what we know now but back then it wasn’t really well known, they started sending them all over the country for people to plant them.

Bill: Oh, jeez!

Mike: Yeah, they were like, “Yeah, let’s put these everywhere,” and so that would be not advisable now knowing what we know about invasive species.

Bill: [Laughing] They become invasive somewhere!

Mike: We wouldn’t advise that now but there was almost no data that was returned and the data that was returned said they died after the first winter.  So we know that the first winter is the important thing to get to.  With my survival, it was like straight down in terms of mortality or survival.  It was just really low after that first winter and then it kind of leveled off.  So we saw not too much in losses after that first winter.

Bill: If you could make it through that first winter.

Mike: Right. That’s the important thing.  But this has been attempted, propagation and reintroduction, at least four times in the past and without either no successful results or no data to back up any claim. 

Steve: That’s tough.

Bill: So your effort has been the best.

Mike: Yeah!  [Laughter]  We did it!  Not all my effort, I had a lot of help along the way.

Bill: And a thirty percent success rate.

Mike: Yes!  We had a thirty percent success rate.  But NOW we know what we didn’t get any information about in the past is why it didn’t work or why it did work.  So now we have that knowledge, we can now take that and move on to the next phases of it.  We plan on continuing propagation.  There is actually ongoing propagation at SUNY-ESF right now and that project will be transitioned over to Parks sometime in the next year.

Bill: And will you have a hand in that?

Mike: Yes. 

Bill: Oh, great.

Mike: So we mentioned Mary Clark Thompson, here and in Sonnenberg Gardens, so my former advisor for my master’s, Danny Fernando, is currently running propagation at ESF and he’s going to transition that project over to, well, Parks, but essentially me, and Bridget from the previous episode that you did at Sonnenberg gardens as part of the plant materials program for Parks.  We’re gonna be propagating them at the Sonnenberg Gardens greenhouses there for reintroduction probably three-to-five years from now after their outdoor climatization.  It’s gonna be a long project but we have have the backing of Fish and Wildlife, New York Natural Heritage Program, SUNY-ESF, but you know, that’s part of plant reintroduction that people aren’t familiar with.  They think that you just grow a plant, you put it out there, and it doesn’t matter.  Like, that’s just it.  But it takes a long time to do it right and you have to have buy-in not only from the agencies that you’re working with but also from the public.  Sometimes the public doesn’t just go along – people growing plants and putting them out there and this and that and so it’s really important that we get that feedback from people and that we get those partners onboard and that everyone’s with it.  So we’re not just out here, rouge agents doing whatever we want like had been done in the past, cuz we know that leads to problem with, “Is this a natural population?  Is this a transplanted population?”  So I keep my records up to date with all the appropriate people so the know what I’m doing and I know what they’re do and we’re all copacetic.

Bill: I think that’s why, you know, Whitney who, I don’t know if she’s directly your boss but the one who put us in touch with you and who got in touch with us originally – one of her big reasons for doing it is to let the public know what’s going on because New York State Parks – being a park agency – they don’t have a big marketing budget or a way to let lots of people know about the good work they’re doing with plant propagation and reintroduction and all of the other great stuff that they’re doing.  But we’re happy to play our little small part spreading the word and I think this is a great point to tell people: if they want to support this work, if they want to find out more about this work, how can they do that?

Mike: That’s a really good question.  So to find out more about it, recently I wrote a blog post for the New York State Parks blog that gives a little bit of history of the discovery of the fern in New York State and kind of what Parks is currently doing with the fern, etcetera, and you can find information on that there.  Soon it will be at Sonnenberg gardens being propagated, probably in a year or two and actually visit them and see them there, which is probably the only time that you’ll be able to see them because not too many people – we legally can’t disclose the locations or these because they’re federally protected so not too many people get to see them.  So that’ll be your chance to see them, probably within a couple years from now.  So write it down.

Bill: This is fall 2018, folks, so in fall of 2020 –

Mike: Yeah, you might see some ferns there.  We’ll probably get it up and running with the next year and so we’ll probably do that.  And we’re also planning right here at Clark Reservation in our nature center, which is a great resource that we have by our parking lot here, we’re planting a terrarium with hart’s tongue fern.  You’ll be able to see all the different stages so you’ll be able to see the little gametophytes; you’ll be able to see all the little sporelings, and some of the older plants.  That’ll obviously take a little while too because they’re SO slow growing.  But we’re getting a nice Victorian style wardian case or terrarium.  We’re gonna have some nice signage and interpretative information.  In order to get physically involved, you can always follow a few rules at parks.  So the best stewards at our parks, the best way to be involved is just to follow the rules.  Stay on the trail, don’t throw garbage, things like that is excellent.  And if you feel like you want to do more than just be a good visitor to the park, you can always contact Parks specifically through the FORCES program.  That’s Friends of Recreation Conservation and Environmental Stewardship and offer to volunteer.  We do a lot of invasive species management; we come out with trowels and we’re kind of surgical out here cuz it’s really tough to work in.  We dig out, you know, the invasive species, we do education programs, all that stuff.  I twice a year or so I do a fern hike so if you wanna come along on that, I probably won’t do another one this year but maybe next year keep an eye out for at Clark Reservation State Park.

Bill: So the FORCES program that you mentioned, Mike, that’s specific to New York State, right?

Mike: Yeah, that’s right, that’s actually a New York State Parks specific program.

Bill: Yeah, so any of our listeners outside of New York State, obviously you can contact your state parks, get involved.  They have similar programs, similar volunteer opportunities.  It’s always good to get involved in your local state parks if you want to feel a connection to your local environment.  So, why don’t we move?  We can move down to a place with a little more secure footing.


Bill: So Mike, I think a good place to wrap up would be to say, if a person asks, “Why bother with this plant?  Its range is so restricted.  Most people are not ever going to run into this plant.”  How would you answer a person who says, “Why bother?  Why bother put all this work into it?”

Mike: That’s a really good question.  That’s something that, when you’re so close to a topic like this sometimes you forget that not everyone is as passionate or knows as much about it as you do.  So the, “Why bother?” question is a good one.  My best response to that, in terms of this particular species, the hart’s tongue fern, is that it exists in these areas that are so rare and significant.  The habitats are – you don’t find these everywhere.  And there’s valuable resources that exist within the habitat, as well, particularly limestone.  So one of the reasons, “Why bother?”, is bcause if we didn’t do this, if we dind’t protect these plants or these areas, then basically you might end up with just a bunch of big pits in the ground that are kind of ugly.  And it’s great brick and mortar, I’m not against that stuff, but to do it in a way that doesn’t affect these rare and significant communities that once they’re gone they’re gone forever.  I’ve done the research, I’ve looked in the area, there’s not many places that you can – you can’t just move these.  I don’t want to [give] the impression that because we can grow and transplant them that it’s easy to do.  It’s really not and there’s not a lot of places for them to go.  So it’s really important for us to protect these simply because it’s the only bits of them that are left.  You know, we’ve quarried up a lot of them, we’ve moved into areas and we kind of have as human being this responsibility to taking care of these areas that, you know, otherwise just might end up a big pit in the ground. 

Bill: In the limited research that we did, the literature that we looked at said that populations though they are very limited they are very stable.  Would you agree with that?

Mike: Yeah, I would agree with that although the caveat to that is that some of the populations particularly the ones that are on private lands in New York state tend to have a lot of invasive species.  So pale swallow-wort in particular is one that people are most familiar with that is a really nasty invasive vining plant.  And so the ones like this that we’re at now, they’re definitely stable.  It’s a big, healthy population but some of the populations in New York State are as few as eight, ten, fifteens plants.  And if you get swallow-wort and other things coming in there, there’s no management of the land because they’re on private land or wherever, then I would argue that we’re probably more at risk of losing some of these populations now than we ever have been because of that issue;  And that’s something that is being addressed with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the New York State Department of Environment Conservation and they actually have private landowner land management programs for people who have rare and threatened, endangered species on their property - and that gives them advice and guidance on how to manage their properties.  So they’re working on things like that right now. 

Bill: Alright, well, Mike, we want to say thank you again for sharing your time, your knowledge with us and the audience.  We appreciate it and we hope that you’ll come back on sometime.

Mike: You’re welcome, guys, thanks for coming out and checking out our little corner of the world.

Steve: Yeah, thank you!

Bill: Our pleasure. 

Steve: Alright, so we hope that you enjoyed the episode!

Bill: And we wanna give a big thank you to Mike for giving up his time, his expertise.  You can just tell that this man’s a natural teacher.

Steve: Yeah, it was really great. 

Bill: It was great.  We also want to thank our contact at New York State Parks, Whitney Carleton for putting us in touch with Mike and all of the other great people that she works with and we definitely hope that she’ll be putting us in touch with more people in the future. 

Steve: Yeah, looking forward to what they’re doing in the near future.  Alright, so first and formost we’d like to thank our growing list of Patreon supporters.  So thank you Sarah, Rachaelfilum: The Drunk Phytologist ––

Bill: Like it!

Steve: And welcome back Mountain Misery Farms.

Bill: Yay!  Welcome back!  Glad they came back.

Steve: So we’re thankful for every single patron but at the end of every show we like to give a special thanks to our top patrons: Rob, WeNamedTheDogIndie, Orange Julian, and especially Ken, Diane, Alyssa, Morgan, Elizabeth, Daniel, and Susan. 

Bill: Thank you, folks!

Steve: We also need to thank our recent Paypal donors.  So thank you very much Jerry, Cheryl, and Amanda.  Thank you guys so much; those were incredibly generous donations. 

Bill:  Thank you folks!  It was a very wonderful surprise.  We also want to thank our new five-star reviewer on iTunes, so thank you devilchaser, and we also want to thank our reviewers on Stitcher from the last year since we always seem to forget them.

Steve: [Laughing] Sorry guys!

Bill: So thank you mk710, juliedd and Mark Nenadov. 

Steve: Yeah, so thank those reviews coming, guys, it really helps us get the word out to more people.  Now, I wanna say that life’s been super busy and I forgot to get in touch with Always Wandering Art, for our normal beautiful thumbnail, but as always their website and Etsy page will be in the episode notes.  So you guys get a free one.


Steve: Alright, and as we said before, please check out and we have links in the episode notes and on our website.  And remember to check out the great work that Mike and New York State Parks are doing at Clark Reservation State Park. 

Bill: It’s a great place to go and visit!

Steve: So if you have any of your own questions, comments, or episode suggestions, send us an email at  Visit us on Instagram at fieldguidespodcast, follow us on twitter @fieldguidespod.  Like and follow us on facebook, and visit us on our website at  And if you like what you hear and you want to support the podcast, you can do so on  But if you’re like me and you can’t afford to financially support a podcast right now, there are other ways you can help out.  You can share our episode with friends or rate us and leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher.  It really helps us get the word out to more people.  So thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next month.

Bill: See you next month, folks!