Word of the Week: Crosier

crosier, crozier [ kroh-zher ] noun: the curled top of a young fern frond, also commonly referred to as a fiddlehead


The crosiers/fiddleheads of Osmundastrum cinnamomeum (cinnamon fern) emerge with a woolly covering in spring. Photo © Mary Free

When the frond (leaf) of a fern emerges from its underground rhizome, its head is coiled (circinate). Its appearance has been likened to a crosier (a bishop’s curved staff) or the scroll on the head of some stringed instruments, hence the commonly used term fiddlehead. Fiddlehead also refers specifically to a young coiled fern frond that is edible and eaten as a vegetable.

Over time people have consumed a number of different fern species, but debate has grown about the carcinogenic properties of some. One native fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern), has a long history as a food, eaten by early Native Americans and still harvested by New Englanders and Canadians today.

Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern) In October with distinctive brown fertile fronds that often persist through winter. Photo © Elaine Mills


As with any plant found in the wild, accurate identification is essential before consumption. To ensure food safety, ostrich fern fiddleheads also must be harvested at the appropriate time during their growth cycle and prepared in the proper manner. For more information on identifying and on sustainable harvesting, cleaning, and cooking of ostrich fern fiddeheads, read the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Bulletin #2540 and Bulletin #4198.




Can you identify the ostrich fern among the other native fern crosiers or fiddleheads below? Point or click on the picture for the answer.

NOTE: Plants in the wild should not be eaten without consulting an expert or authoritative field guides for information on identification and food preparation. It is easy to confuse plants in the wild, so you should be 100% sure they are edible before consuming them. Remember:

  • Just because a plant is not identified as toxic does not mean that it is safe to eat.
  • Sometimes only certain parts of a plant are edible and other parts of the same plant are toxic.
  • Sometimes parts are only edible at a certain time in their life cycle or when they are prepared in a certain way.


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