The beautiful ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is found in Minnesota’s eastern broadleaf and Laurentian mixed forest provinces. Within these forests, ostrich fern is found on moist shaded areas growing under silver or red maples, ash and other tree species.
The ostrich fern fiddlehead in some areas of the United States may be found in farmers markets. Correct identification is important. Bracken fern, another common fern of Minnesota woods, is carcinogenic. See identification cues from the Minnesota Harvester Handbook’s fact sheet on ostrich fern fiddleheads.
Harvest of fiddleheads is done when the fern has recently sprouted from the crown of the plant and is still 4 to 8 inches long. Repeated harvest of fiddleheads from the same plant can cause the plant to die. It is recommended that harvest be from crowns that have more than four stems and that no more than ½ the stems be harvested. Then that plant should not be harvested again the next year.
Fiddlehead ferns can transplanted, making wild cultivation an option.
The Minnesota Harvester Handbook addresses sustainable natural resource harvest and markets. This resource – developed by the University of Minnesota Extension and many contributors – demonstrates the breadth and diversity of natural resources found in and around the state’s woodlands. For more non-timber forest products to harvest this spring, purchase a copy of the Minnesota Harvester Handbook.
Keep posted to MyMinnesotaWoods for a monthly fact sheet on non-timber forest products.