Ferns are a very large family that contains the genera Adiantum (Maidenhair), Asplenium (Bird’s Nest), Davallia (Rabbit’s Foot), Nephrolepis (Boston), Platycerium (Staghorn), and Pteris (Table). Ferns are natively found on most continents, including the Arctic. Ferns are unique in that they are seedless and flowerless plants whose true roots form from a rhizome, or underground stem. They naturally propagate from the rhizome being severed or, more commonly in nature, from wind-borne spores. These spores appear like pepper on the underside of fronds (fern leaves) of most species and are disseminated simply by being brushed off by animals or blown by the wind. In commercial settings they are propagated by tissue culture.
History of Ferns
Ferns lack the bright colors of flowers, they are tremendously diverse in frond size, shape, division, texture, and color. In their prehistoric heyday, ferns dominated landscapes. Many evolved into modern plants, and more than 12,000 species thrive today. From big tree ferns to tiny, wispy strains, they reproduce from spores found beneath their fronds, or leaves.
At once a dense parasol and green tent roof, ferns spread their mighty fan of fronds and show the traveler who takes a midday rest beneath them the eternal blue of heaven through the most beautiful lace curtain that ever Nature wove or knitted. Thus wrote a botanist about ferns in the rainforest over 100 years ago. These words bespeak the enchantment the exotic ferns offered to those of the previous century. They were far and away the first choice for green ornaments for salons and hotel lobbies. The English of the Victorian era liked them so much that they artfully worked cast iron and glass to create the so-called ferneries, in which humidity and soil dampness remained almost constant.
Ferns are still today, despite their limited life span, among the most popular green plants. Interesting Facts about Ferns Did you know that the ferns on your windowsill belonged to the plant kingdom at the time of the dinosaurs? They are between 250 and 400 million years old, and have scarcely changed since then. Today the botanists number some 200 genera and 9,000 species in the division of fern plants.
Ferns live on the ground in the deep shade of forests, they settle on sunny cliffs, or grow on water surfaces. The floating fern (Salvinia) coats waters in southern Africa so densely that a person can walk on its surface. Ferns do not flower. Unlike the highly developed flowering plants, ferns reproduce primitively like fungi, through spores. These are situated on the undersides of mature leaves and, depending on the species, are arranged like tiny dots, loose little heaps, or precise lines. The mature spore dust is powder-fine and can be carried on the wind. On a warm surface (earth for example) it develops a prothallium. This is furnished with male and female reproductive organs from whose fusion the young fern plants arise. Dominant characteristics of most species are the more or less finely pinnate fronds. They can be light or dark green, striped with silver-gray or tinted with red, leathery and robust or extremely delicate. Characteristics are the pretty curled fiddleheads or crosiers from which the new fronds uncoil. By rolling up, the fern protects its leaf tip – the most susceptible part -from being eaten by animals.
Most house Ferns are forest dwellers from warmer regions. This means that they do best in loose, nutrient-rich, moisture-retaining potting medium. They do not tolerate blazing sunlight and cold feet. Through their numerous fronds, Ferns develop a lush mass of green that evaporates much water. The soil should therefore be slightly damp at all times, watered with soft, room temperature water. Almost all species, but especially the tender-leaved ones, are from habitats where high humidity prevails which is the main reason why they often fail in rooms with heated, dry air. Unfortunately, many Ferns do not like to be misted, so you must provide indirect humidity. Hard-leaved species like the Holly fern tolerate dry air, the Staghorn fern protects its leaves from too much evaporation by a waxy coating, and the Cliff Brake, as a xerophyte (plant that thrives in very dry locations) is used to dryness. Ideal conditions for all Ferns are bathrooms, or a damp, humid flower window.