For years a patch of these little ferns have been growing beside a trail in our woods, but until today I haven't been serious about finding out about them. While drawing this one I became increasingly curious to know what it is. That's what happens when I draw something - the plant (or whatever) becomes mine and it is necessary to call it by name. I have no choice. I'm driven to find out.
Back inside I did some research. A cursory flip through field guides produced nothing, but then I remembered an old book, bought months ago at our Friends of the Library used book sale, called How to know the Ferns, written by Frances Theodora Parsons, published 1961. In the book I happened upon a drawing of the same fern... or close to the same. The one in the book was called a Ternate Grape Fern (Botrycnium Ternatum). Mine is not ternate (not in our range), but some other Grape Fern. Don't know which one yet - even on the internet it is hard to distinguish between the various leaves.
The individual plants never have more than one leaf stalk and one fruiting stalk, both of which last through the winter and fall away in spring when the new leaf emerges. The fruiting stalk grows in the fall. Only four of my plants are big enough to have a fruiting stalk, on which grow tiny, grape-shaped spore cases that start out green, then split open to release white spores. As they age the cases turn papery brown, like the one above, while the spores remain white. One of the cases (above) must have had wet spores inside because when it popped open the spores remained in a little ball that resembled an teeny-tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream. On other cases the white spores were messy and dotted the case's exterior as well as the interior.
I stood up to leave and spotted four more baby plants, which makes eleven, all growing within a circle about 8 ft. in diameter around a rotting pine log.