A fern is part of a group of plants classified in the Division Pteridophyta. This class of nonflowering vascular plants reproduce by spores and possess true roots, stems, and complex leaves. That’s why you may also see people refer to a fern as a pteridophyte.
There are an estimated 10-15,000 known species of ferns that are classified into about 40 different families. The reason as to why the numbers vary is because certain groups of ferns are poorly studied, and new species are still being found over in unexplored, tropical areas.
History of the Fern
Ferns are among one of the oldest plants, dating back to hundreds of millions of years ago. However, most of the earliest ferns that date back to the Devonian period, such as the Rhacophytales, Pseudosporochnales, and Tempskya groups, have since gone extinct.
It’s important to know that many of the ferns that you see available to you today have evolved relatively recently. Most of them evolved in only the last 70 million years, which is crazy to think about now that you know how long they’ve been around. Today, ferns are the second-most diverse group of vascular plants on earth.
Fern Size Ranges
Ferns are diverse and different from any other plants in terms of their habitat, form, and reproductive methods. Ferns can be filmy plants that reach only about 0.39-0.47 inches tall to huge fern trees sizing at about 30 to 80 feet tall. Ferns also differ in their looks. Some plants you’ll find are more twining and vine-like, whereas others can float on surface ponds and flourish.
Early Stages of Growth in Ferns
Ferns tend to grow successfully in tropical climates. As you begin to observe higher latitudes, you’ll find that the number of ferns diminishing. That’s because higher latitudes have decreasing supplies of moisture. It’s unlikely that you will discover ferns growing in dry and cool places.
Some ferns, such as the lady fern and maidenhair fern, are considered sun-tolerant and can grow perfectly fine when placed in direct sunlight. However, most varieties of ferns don’t need direct sunlight, and they can grow in deep shade. Most ferns grow best when they are exposed to about 60 to 70 percent of shade.
You’ll notice your fern growing its best when they are in warm temperatures, preferably somewhere between 73 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Although ferns can survive in colder temperatures, this is usually a breeding ground for harmful fungi that can ruin your plant. Your fern is typically successful in growing in temperatures starting at 63 degrees.
How Often Should You Water Your Fern?
It can be easy to overwater your fern. Most ferns need about a day or two to dry out between waterings. Unless they are a Boston fern, footed fern, or a staghorn fern, you shouldn’t have to water your plant daily. A good sign to tell if you are overwatering your plant is to begin to notice black discoloration located at the visible tips of the fern roots. When you start to notice discoloration, hold off on watering until they return to their natural color.
The Life Cycle of Ferns
Ferns are unique because they do not flower to propagate. As mentioned, they reproduce through spores. Therefore, their life cycle is much different from any other plants you may have researched. Most plants grow from a seed into their mature adult form. However, ferns must grow through an intermediate stage before they can fully mature into an adult fern.
Let’s take a look at the two distinct stages in the life cycle of a fern:
Once spores are produced on mature plants’ underside, they will begin to germinate and grow into small plants called gametophytes. These heart-shaped plants produce both sperm and egg cells that will fertilize themselves, as well as others. Once the fertilization process begins, your adult fern can begin to grow.
The second phase of the fern life cycle is the adult stage. During this stage, you begin to see your plant grow and flourish. Suddenly you will start to see some green growth that evolves from the fertilized gametophytes. If you start to see the fern growing, be careful to not keep in indirect light, because too much exposure can quickly kill and dry out the plant.
Once you notice your plan growing tiny fronds, the plant has a better chance of surviving. After the beings are fully matured, moisture from the ground can easily transport throughout the leaves, and the plants will be able to handle some direct sunlight. When your fern is fully grown, it will continue to grow spores located under the leaves, and the process will begin all over again.
Interesting Facts about Ferns
With over 10,000 fern species, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are interesting facts about Ferns. Although we wish that we could go through all 10,000 + plants let’s take a look at some interesting facts about the ferns you can find at Cold Stream Farm:
Christmas Fern Facts
Christmas ferns have dark green, leathery leaves that consist of 20 to 35 pairs of lance-shaped leaflets with pointed tips. Their trunks are short and scaly at the base, but they flourish into healthy green leaves as they continue to grow. Despite its name, a Christmas fern can be found all year round, including during the holidays.
Cinnamon Fern Facts
Also referred to as an Osmundastrum Cinnamomeum, these tall ferns can be found growing in the wild in swamps and moist mountain slopes around eastern North America. The cinnamon fern is a large fern that starts out green, but as they continue to grow, it will turn into a brown/cinnamon colored plant.
Maidenhair Fern Facts
Maidenhair ferns can make wonderful houseplants. They are also used as ingredients of medicinal shampoo and used to help relieve asthma, snakebites, and coughs.
Marginal Wood Fern Facts
The Marginal Wood fern, or otherwise known as Dryopteris marginalis, thrives on rocky, dry areas. It’s also known to stay green over winter, so don’t be startled to see them peeking out throughout the snow.
Royal Fern Facts
Royal ferns grow on stream banks and in swamps, marshes, and other wetlands in the Adirondack Mountains. The royal fern is also a member of the Osmundaceae family, which is considered the royal fern family.