My son the pteridophobic

My son Apollo is a mega boy and fears little, but what he does fear he does so with gusto. He is 5 years old and doesn’t fear the street, backtalking us, arguing with his brother and sister and climbs trees with abandon. The fireworks we hear in our neighborhood scare him a little, but for most things he’s perfectly unaware of any danger. When we were in Las Vegas and Southern Utah he had no fear of the cactus.

Get him around ferns, however, and he is paralyzed.

The picture that goes with this post is from our Thursday trip to the former Elwha Dam, which was blasted to turn back into a river, restoring historic salmon runs. The trail runs about a half mile from the parking lot, the last half through a pretty thick forest filled with ferns.

We began walking through that part and Apollo began complaining loudly. I pushed him through one section that was lined with ferns, though none came close to touching them, and he yelled like he was being tortured.

He spent the rest of the walk, as you can see from the grainy picture, riding on the back of my wife. That didn’t stop him from complaining.

This happened once before, probably when he was 3. We were hiking a trail in South Kitsap and were almost done with it when he spotted ferns close to his walking path. I ended up carrying him but he continued to wail so loudly that other hikers who could hear us, but not see us, asked if everything was OK. We told the truth, that our son is afraid of ferns.

We are not quite sure where he got it. We have always suspected he was fed that fear from his older brother, Sascha, but Sascha denies it. I seem to remember some teasing about it when Apollo was 2 or so, but I can’t be certain where it started.

When we were done with the Elwha part of our adventure on Thursday I asked Apollo what I would have to give him to take a fern, pick it up and play with it. Sascha offered him a Rubik’s Cube. Apollo was having none of it. Later that day he willingly climbed higher peaks at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. We passed deer that were unafraid of humans, snow packs and went up trails that were a bit steep off to the sides. None of those things bothered Apollo in the least.

Until I started writing this post I was unaware there was an actual name for it. According to a story on, Sigmund Freud had the same fear. So does this woman, a nutritionist.

Nowhere could I find a way to cure Apollo of his phobia. In my head I’m thinking the promise of a good root beer might do it. That’s what got him eager to hike so much on Thursday. Years back I saw a guy help a woman with her fear of spiders by encouraging her to let one walk all over her hand. I can’t see that working for me with snakes. And if I pinned Apollo down and rubbed ferns all over him I don’t know if it would cure him or make him hate me forever.

Maybe I’ll just encourage him to live somewhere other than the Pacific Northwest when he’s older.

4 thoughts on “My son the pteridophobic

  1. I was searching pteridophobia on google to see if I spelled it right to explain something to a friend, and this post came up. It’s a little old, but I am also pteridophobic, mainly scared of bracken fiddleheads. I am 23 now but my parents used to take my bushwalking and I too had to be piggy-backed by my mum or dad in fern sections. I developed it at a very young age and my younger brother, and dad to some degree, thought it was funny and used to torture me with them when they found out, cementing the fear deeper and deeper. In the end I couldn’t bush walk anymore and I can barely look at some of them now, and although I tried to expose myself to them bit by bit (touching them, chopping them down with sticks etc) it has never gone away. It’s hard to explain to people and even worse when you say that you’re scared of them and the people you tell go up and touch them saying ‘oh, you mean these?’ and sometimes they go to pull them down or bring them to you to show you that they’re not harmful, but when they do that I just scream and run. I recently went on a long 4×4 drive and the roadside of one section was littered with them, I panicked and floored the car, hoping that I didn’t crash and drive into them, or break down and have to get out. I really hope your son recovers from this fear, but the worst thing you can do is to force him into confronting them, you need to let him do it at his own pace. If I was not tortured and forced into being around them I wouldn’t still have it now.

  2. I have to say it’s a relief to hear that other people struggle with this. I’m not sure if this is the case for your son, but it’s not that I’m afraid they’ll hurt me, it’s just the thought of touching them is SOOOOO unpleasant! I love hiking, camping, and the outdoors in general, so you can imagine this is a bit of a problem. The worst part for me is the spores that they form on the back of their leaves, and this bothers me so much that the same texture bothers me on other things (like green peppers, and I love those!). I’ve gone through anxiety therapy before (for issues unrelated but it’s amazing what you learn through it), and I’ve had to train myself to ignore the fact that they are nearby while still keeping a little distance. It helps to remind myself that they aren’t harmful, they just give the creepers, and I don’t need to touch them, but they can exist near me. It’s embarrassing and tough sometimes, especially since I know it’s such an irrational fear and I don’t know why they really bother me, but he’s got to convince/teach himself that they aren’t bad. But if you do work on it early, it’ll be far less likely to develop further.

  3. Pingback: There is something about fern « Shells and pebbles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *