Normans Kill Ferns: A guest post by Aengus Gillespie

Hi! I’m Aengus Gillespie, rising Albany High School senior and volunteer Preserve Steward of the Normans Kill Preserves which are uniquely situated in the heart of an urban area, at the literal bridge between South Albany and Delmar. In the coming months, be sure to look for my series of posts that will help this underappreciated urban preserve come alive for area residents. 

On my most recent rounds of the preserve, I noticed flourishing fern species and an interesting variety of mushrooms. I was especially impressed by the large patch of ferns found at the turn towards the river on the Normans Kill East trail. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more common and interesting species of fern found there.

New York fern, Thelypteris noveboracensis

The New York fern is the most common type of fern found at Normans Kill East. It is identifiable by its semi-tapering blades which are widest at the middle and the round red sori (spore pods) found on the underside of mature ferns. This type of fern isn’t readily eaten by any large animals, as it is deciduous; ferns are generally only eaten by large animals when other food is unavailable. The New York fern does provide a food source for various moth caterpillars throughout the year.

Sensitive fern, Onoclea sensibilis


The sensitive fern earns its name due to the plant’s sensitivity to frost. It is characterized by its non-divided pinnae (the branching sections of a fern’s blade) and by its black sori located on a central stalk instead of under the pinnae. As with the New York fern, large animals do not gravitate to this fern as a significant food source. This deer-resistant variety is favored by gardeners as a low groundcover.

Bulblet fern, Cystopteris bulbifera

The bulbet fern is named after the white bulbet sori that grows under it’s pinnae. The sori are not always present early in the season. The fern’s triangle blade shape also sets it apart from the New York fern. Along Normans Kill East’s path, there are very few bulbet ferns. Those visible can be found as you descend the hill towards the river lookout and the main stand of ferns. The bulbet fern has a very picky taste when it comes to the soil it prefers, which may be why it is less prevalent at Normans Kill East. This fern requires limestone deposits or stone scree to grow and thus can often be found at cave entrances. 

Coral mushroom

The final subject of today’s rambling can be found readily at both Normans Kill East and West, but, if you want to see it before it turns to pulp, then move fast! The recent rains have brought out a number of white coral fungus clusters along the ground, some of which have grown up directly in the middle of the path. Despite its strange appearance, this fungus is technically edible, although tough with an insignificant amount of really edible material. (Eating wild fungi is not recommended, whether or not you know a fungus to be considered “edible.”

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