Resurrection Ferns Make Awe-Inspiring Comebacks

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension image

Resurrection ferns make awe-inspiring comebacks

One of the most common yet overlooked plants in the Southeast is the fascinating resurrection fern (Polypodium polypodioides). The main reason it is not noticed by more people is due to where it lives. They can often be found growing on the upper branches of large trees like old live oaks. The resurrection fern is a true fern that reproduces via spores and not seeds.  It is considered to be an epiphyte or `air plant’ because it derives its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and grows upon another plant, but is not parasitic. Resurrection ferns use creeping rhizomes to attach to tree bark and are often found growing on the tops of tree branches or in branch crotches in large clumps where they are able to collect the most water and nutrients.

This amazing plant is native to the Southeast and can be found from Florida to New York and west to Texas. Around Wayne County, this plant is likely to be growing on old mature trees in hardwood forest areas. The resurrection fern gets it name because the frond curls up and turns grayish-brown when it dries out and appears as if the plant has shriveled up and died. It also has a stiff and scaly texture to it when it dries out adding to the perception that the plant is dead. Once the curled frond is exposed to moisture the fern begins to unfurl and become bright green as if it has come back to life. Anything from an increase in humidity to a heavy rain shower can spark this interesting transformation to take place. It only takes a small amount of water to cause the resurrection fern to “rise from the dead”.

Many experts have estimated that the resurrection fern can remain in its dried state for at least 100 years. Unlike most plants, the resurrection fern is able to tolerate losing up to 97% of its water and remain alive. Just to give you an idea of how remarkable this feat is the majority of plants can only tolerate a 10% water loss before they begin to die back. This unique trait earned the resurrection fern the title of `first fern in space’ when it traveled aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1997. The fern was taken into space to observe its resurrection at zero gravity and the results showed that the fern was able to complete this process even without gravity. As the weather warms up and the spring rains pour down on the landscape I encourage you to look-up in the branches of old oak trees for a glimpse of this interesting fern.

Upcoming gardening events in Wayne County:
• Blueberry Pruning Workshop will be held in Goldsboro at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems on February 18th from 9 a.m. till noon. There is no cost for this workshop, but registration is required by February 15th. This workshop is limited to the first 35 participants. Please call Diane Lynch at 919-731-1525 to reserve a spot. The workshop will consist of a one hour presentation on blueberry management followed by a pruning demonstration.
• Edible Ginger Production Workshop will be held in Goldsboro at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems on March 3rd from 1 p.m. till 3 p.m. This workshop is designed for first-time ginger growers. Presenter Susan Anderson of East Branch Ginger will give an overview of edible ginger (Zingiber officinale) production. There is no cost for this workshop, but registration is required by March 1st. Please call Diane at 919-731-1525 to reserve a spot.

NCSU & NC A&T University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability.  In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.

Karen E. Blaedow
Extension Agent
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Wayne County Center
P. O. Box 68
Goldsboro, NC  27533
Phone: 919-731-1525
Fax: 919-731-1511

Posted on Feb 17, 2012
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