Fabulous Ferns

May 15, 2015

A fern is a member of a group of roughly 12,000 species of vascular plants that reproduce via spores and have neither seeds nor flowers. They differ from mosses by being vascular (i.e. having water-conducting vessels). They have stems and leaves, like other vascular plants. Most ferns have what are called fiddleheads that expand into fronds, which are each delicately divided.

Leptosporangiate ferns (sometimes called “true ferns”) are by far the largest group, but ferns as defined here (ferns sensu lato) include horsetails, whisk ferns, marattioid ferns, and ophioglossoid ferns. This group may be referred to as monilophytes. The term pteridophyte traditionally refers to ferns plus a few other seedless vascular plants (see the classification section below), although some recent authors have used the term to refer strictly to the monilophytes.

Life cycle of a typical fern:

  1. A diploid sporophyte phase produces haploid spores by meiosis (a process of cell division which reduces the number of chromosomes by a half).
  2. A spore grows into a haploid gametophyte by mitosis (a process of cell division which maintains the number of chromosomes). The gametophyte typically consists of a photosynthetic prothallus.
  3. The gametophyte produces gametes (often both sperm and eggs on the same prothallus) by mitosis.
  4. A mobile, flagellate sperm fertilizes an egg that remains attached to the prothallus.
  5. The fertilized egg is now a diploid zygote and grows by mitosis into a diploid sporophyte (the typical “fern” plant).

Image Source: http://www.fernlifecenter.com/about-fern-life/why-the-fern/

Ferns are among the oldest living plants on earth and there are both indoor and outdoor types of ferns. There are about 20,000 species of ferns in 150 different families. In their native habitats, most ferns grow on moist, nutrient-rich forest floor where they can receive little light and some are epiphytes are nestled on branches of tall trees. Ferns are different from mosses by being vascular, they have stems and leaves and are the most versatile plants on the planet. They first appear in the fossil record 360 million years ago but most of the current families and species did not appear until roughly 145 million years ago. They grow in many different habitats around the world and were at the height of their evolution during the Carboniferous Period (also known as age of ferns) where they were the dominant part of the vegetation at that time.

Many types of ferns flourish both outdoors and as houseplants. Outdoor ferns thrive best in partially shaded areas and those grown indoors flourish in bright light, provided they are not placed in the path of direct sunlight.  In general ferns rarely suffer from diseases or insect infestations and are easily grown by even the most novice gardeners. The diverse forms of ferns offer plenty of variety to choose from, making htem fascinating to grow indoors in hanging baskets or perched on pedestals. In the landscape, gardeners frequently plant ferns as edging and to add texture. Some types do well in containers, and most resist rabbits and deer and they range in size from just a few inches tall to more than 12 feet in the case of the tree ferns.


Popular indoor ferns include: Holly Ferns, Boston Ferns, Maidenhair Ferns, Staghorn Fern, Button Fern and Bird’s Nest Fern.

Holly Fern – commonly known as leather leaf holly have 3 – 5 inch leaflets lining the fronds of Cyrtomium falcatum, the leaflets are dark gree, glossy and shaped like holly leaves without the spines. This fern loves cool temperature (under 75 degrees F), moderately high humidity and moisture. It is hardy in zones 7-10.  They are available in three species including Japanese, Hawaiian and East Indian holly ferns.

Boston Ferns – are the most popular of the houseplant varieties though they would also grow wild outdoors in many regions. They have dark green leaves with many deep, evenly spaced indentations in the edges and benefit from frequent but  light misting of the fronds and can grow to gargantuan proportions. Care and maintenance for this type of fern is quite easy, just place it where it’ll get indirect light (some direct morning sun is fine) and keep it moist.

Maidenhair Ferns – is one of the most delicate types of indoor ferns. It is a unique plant with thin black stems and small, dainty leaves. It’s also one of the fussiest, preferring high humidity that’s difficult to maintain in most homes. Maidenhair ferns grow well in the corners of large bathrooms because of the humidity but cannot survive in direct sunlight.

Staghorn Fern – this species commonly grows on the bark of trees in Asia, Africa and Australia. It will make a good houseplant if planted in a coarse soil with good drainage. It has two set of fronds: green and brown, the green fronds are fertile and resemble stag horns and grow up to four feet long while the brown fronds are infertile and grow outside the green fronds. They are short, flat and round.


Popular outdoor ferns include: Bird Nest Fern, Ostrich Fern, Japanese Painted Fern, Australian Tree Fern, Asparagus Ferns and Cinnamon Fern.

Bird Nest Fern – are often thought of as garden garnishes as they are compact providing a great constrast to the flowering plants in the garden. They prefer shade and can grow on rocks and trees as well as in soil.

Ostrich Fern – is one of the tallest and most majestic of outdoor fern varieties with frond that can grow to five feet in length and are a striking accent at the back of any shady garden bed. Ostrich ferns like moist soil and shade. Water them infrequently at ground level, making sure not to get any moisture on the delicate leaves to make them more compact.

Japanese Painted Fern – is almost always grown for its silvery or sometimes purplish foliage. It is a close relative of the Lady Fern. The fronds grow to a length of 12-18 inches and taper at the tips. They are darker down the center with lighter edges. For those living in areas with harsh winters, this would be the perfect outdoor fern as it can withstand temperatures as low as -30F degrees.

Australian Tree Fern – is a tree that can grow up to about 30 feet tall with eight foot fronds and trunks. It grows well all over the rain forests in New Zealand and Australia and can be planted only in a climate with heavy precipitation and warm temperatures. These fabulous ferns can add height and Jurassic drama to a woodland landscape design.

Asparagus Ferns – has three varieties with the most common type having fine, needle-like leaves that are irritating to the skin. They need to grow outdoors as they require strong light. They also have the tendency to become invasive and once they do its almost impossible to eradicate them.

Cinnamon Ferns: are commonly found growing wild along creeks and streams which means they require lots of water if they are to be planted in a garden. This fern grows about five feet tall and has two kinds of fronds: the infertile ones are bright geen and the fertile ones are deep, brown cinnamon color. If you want tall plants, site them in shade and keep their soil constantly damp. For more compact clumps, grow them in brighter light and drier soil.

Data Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fern

Curled Leaf Image Source:


Fern Life Cycle - Fern Life Cycle

Image Source: http://4hdwallpapers.com/fern-life-cycle.html

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