Resurrection Fern

Resurrection Fern: A Most Amazing Plant

Photos and Text by Cary Salter

 

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What can be gray or green, can be found high up or even low down, and can be abundant along parts of TGO Nature Trail, particularly on top of mid-level oak branches?

Why it’s Resurrection Fern, one of nature’s most amazing plants.   Pleopeltis polypodioides  to the botanist, or perhaps someone from ancient Italy, this epiphytic fern (meaning it draws everything it needs from air and rain without taking anything from its host plant) loses up to 97% of its moisture during times without rain, only to spring back to lush green life shortly after precipitation drenches it.  (Most of my houseplants die if I let them lose 10% of their moisture.)

This fern uses creeping rhizomes to attach to tree bark and is often found growing on the tops of tree branches or in branch ‘crotches’ in large clumps where it is able to collect the most water and nutrients while it rains.  Its fronds are typically four to 12 inches long.

According to the North Carolina State University A&T Cooperative Extension, many experts believe this fern can last up to 100 years in its dried-up state.  This unique property earned this fern the title of “first fern in space” when it launched on Space Shuttle Discovery in 1997.  NASA helped to study how this fern would react in zero gravity to the moisture loss/resurrection cycle, which it did successfully.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, resurrection fern is found throughout the southeast from Florida north to New York and as far west as Texas. Due to its ability to live without water, it can be found in a variety of habitats, but needs a host plant on which to attach itself, a favorite being large oak trees.

Being a fern, it reproduces by spores and not seeds. These are found in structures called sori on the underside of its fronds.

So, the next time you are on the TGO Nature Trail between the bridge and the library, look to the west in the tall oaks on top of the limbs.  If it hasn’t rained in a while, you will see grayish brown masses piled up and looking like someone glued leaf litter to the sides of trees and tops of limbs.  Then stop back by after the next rain and see the lush green “resurrection” that occurs.

(Click on the images below to get a larger view.)

 

 

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About ‘shoulder high’ on the left side of this Southern Red Cedar, less that 100 yards south of the bridge on the east side of the trail, is a small clump of resurrection fern, dried out in this image and waiting for rain.

 

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A section of older oak trees on the west side of the trail loaded in resurrection fern nearly dried out.

 

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The same parts of the same oak after some rain – note the ‘resurrection’ that occurred.

 

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A wider view of the same oak tree with the fern resurrected.

 

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A close up of resurrection fern in its dried out ‘un-resurrected’ state.

 

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Fern fully resurrected.

 

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A close up of fully resurrected fern with its distinct leaf shape and pattern.

 

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Note the alternating leaves of the resurrection fern and their size.  The small brown ‘dots’ on the underside of the leaves are sori, the spore sacs the fern uses for propagation.

Ed. Note:  To see the fern, go on the golf cart nature trail beginning at the library, and go a ways past the “S” curves.  Look to the left over the fence at the large trees with the ferns. They can also be found on the trees to your right as you are leaving TGO right past Addison Canal close to the new model home in the new development, Addison Preserve.

 

 

TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

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