July 30, 2008
By Susan Benson,
CNHM Director of Education
Ferns are the living dinosaurs of the plant world. They dominated the earth 300 million years ago and evolved into thousands of different species, some of which are still are found in diverse habitats throughout the world.
Ferns are not flowering plants and therefore do not reproduce from seeds. Instead, ferns produce dustlike spores that drop to the ground and grow into small plants which in turn produce a fertile offspring, the sporophyte, that we know as a fern. Ferns also reproduce through their rhizomes, which spread widely underground.
Ferns prefer filtered sun or shade, protection from high winds, enough space to grow to maturity, and an undisturbed root environment. Ferns prefer slightly acidic soils with a high percentage of humus to aid in water retention and drainage.
Ferns have an interesting history reflected in folklore and legends. Fern “seeds” were thought to make one invisible. Whoever obtained these “seeds” was thought to be able to find buried treasure, understand the language of birds, and have the strength of forty men. Throughout history, they have been an important source of food, drugs, and fibers.
With the exception of some species of algae, bracken ferns are the most widespread plants in the world. They will grow in most soils and can be found in shady, moist habitats as well as dry, sunny areas. In order to protect themselves, bracken ferns produce bitter-tasting compounds that discourage animals and insects from eating them. Ferns also generate substances that may act as natural fungicides, preventing the plants from getting certain diseases.
A partial list of other delightful ferns to keep an eye out for in the region’s forests include, maiden-hair, ostrich, interrupted, and sensitive. Hope you enjoy the looking!
Nature Watch is brought to you by the Cable Natural History Museum. For 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 43570 Kavanaugh Street or on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about exhibits and programs.