Fern Grim Reaper

Ferns (plants in the class Polypodiopsida) are hard to grow in areas that have zero humidity. For many-a-year this thumb was black. It matches the color of my robes, I should have turned in my garden hoe for a scythe, because I’m a straight up fern grim reaper.

I’m going to show you some of the poor souls who were unlucky enough to be placed in my care. First though, lets talk a little bit about how ferns work. We will start with what I believe to be the strangest and at the same time most amazing things about ferns. Every fern you’ve ever seen is only half of what that thing is. As strange as it is to believe, every fern has two different lives in two different bodies to complete one life span. When plants do this its called the alteration of generations. The two alterations are named the sporophyte and the gametophyte and each and every fern goes through this process;

We’ll start with the sexually mature sporophyte, this is what everyone sees and thinks of when they think of ferns. A fern will start to produce “Fertile Fronds” that contain sporangium, in these areas of the fertile frond (called the indusium) the sporangium undergo cellular meiosis and become spores. The spores then float around until they land somewhere wet where they grow into the other side of a ferns life and become a different kind of plant called a gametophyte (Still a fern though). Sometimes they are affectionately referred to as “Irish valentines” but its scientific name is the prothallus. You might have seen them before, but almost no one knows that they are actually full grown ferns and here is the craziest part, those gametophytes will release sperm and eggs into nearby water and the sperm actually has little tails to swim like ours does! Its a PLANT! WHAT??! Anyways, when the sperm and egg meet that’s when fertilization occurs and thus a new sporophyte begins to grow, and the process is then repeated. Usually fertilization occurs inside of the prothallus and is chemically induced so that fertilization is made by a sperm not made by that specific gametophyte. For the sake of the extremely long post that this is already going to be I’m gonna skip a ton of details and terminology, but you gotta admit just from that, what a wacky wild world that we live in.

With that amazingness aside, lets take a look at victim number one.

Don’t mind the glare

This fern is called “Holly Fern” Cyrtomium falcatum, and shes actually not doing so bad, surprisingly.

Some folks will see those brown spots and panic, they think its a disease or a pest or something and will even sometimes spray it with something to “Fix” what they perceive as a problem. What you see here are actually the fertile fronds we were talking about earlier. Take a look at a non fertile frond growing right next to it.

A pretty plant to say the least. I see how it resembles a holly bush.

A close up of the Indusium

My only complaint is when these open this plant tends to send yellow spores all over my kitchen floor. Maybe one day I’ll throw em’ in a pot and water them just to see if they grow.

A way to make sure a fern is a fern is to see how the fronds grow. No matter the fronds ultimate form, ferns tend to extend the frond in a spiral as its grows to maturity. Fun fact, hummingbirds like to use those tiny pubescent hairs on immature fronds as nesting material.

Again, not in the best shape, it usually recovers when I set it outside in the spring and summer. Like most of my other plants to be honest.

One last shot of the fertile fronds. I cant stress how Fucking cool I think their lifespans are, but I swear I’ll stop geeking out about it after this:

Fronds fronds, mysteries of the ferns

gone, gone? Lets see some spores on that kitchen floor

Pour some water on the ground,

You think the prothallus will be found?

You’ll see these words a lot

You think its all for clout? I love these ferns, that’s no lie

I’ll love these ferns until they die.

Even then, I’ll love them still

Ill put the fronds into a pile, let em build a little while and switch that peat into a pot.

I’ll grow another ferny lot.

Why did I do this in the morning?

Next on the list is my possible favorite. The mighty stag-horn fern Platycerium bifurcatum. This fern sparks much joy, The fronds get massive are are super different looking from one another compared to our last subject. This fern comes from warm tropical forests on Lord Howe Island but is surprisingly resilient to cold snaps. Lets take a look at the tag it came with!


3 Feet tall and wide seems correct, I’ve seen some in California that were absolute monsters though. Average water use isn’t so helpful but here’s how I do it; every once in a while I remember it exists and then I fully saturate the soil. I give mine direct morning sunlight and its doing wonderful, I bet bright indirect light will work too though. Being a fern it will not have flowers, Ferns actually appeared about 200 million years before the first flowering plant did. These ferns CAN absorb moisture through the air but in the high desert there is no moisture in the air sadly. Not bad, tag, not bad.

Here’s what I wanted to show you! The green parts on the soil level are actually this ferns non fertile fronds. Look how insanely different they are compared to the fertile fronds growing upright. Another weird thing about this fern is its fronds do not grow out in that spiral club shape. A freak amongst freaks.

A close up of the non fertile frond. It actually looks like it has map venation, usually belonging to flowing plants under the order eudocot.

Get ready,

We are about to get pretty fringy here, one of the coolest parts about this fern is that its the first case of eusociality in plants! That’s right, just like a queen bee and her subjects in a beehive these plants will work together in colonies in the wild while some even completely forgoing the ability to sexually reproduce for the good of the colony. Reproductive division of labor is one of the main behaviors needed to be considered eusocial. Its even crazier, all the ferns that grow together in the wild are closely related and are morphologically different. They form legitimate “castes” just like ants do, with soldiers workers and queens. The ferns on the top of the colony will grow fertile fronds, the only ones that reproduce, and their non fertile fronds will grow with a waxy substance so that water and debris from the rain forest bounces away. Under those are the ferns that will still grow fertile fronds but they are cup shaped to collect rain water, these ferns do not reproduce, but they are so closely related to the fertile fronds from the ferns growing above them that benefiting the colony is the best way for the genes of their siblings (parents?) to reproduce. Finally growing at the bottom of the colony are ferns that do not even grow fertile fronds, but the non fertile fronds that they do grow are spongy and absorb water for the rest of the colony to grow. We would think the first instance of plants doing something this advanced would be found in the more “highly evolved” species like the flowering plants, but this is simple not the case. Next time someone tries to tell you animals are more advanced than plants you can throw this in their stupid non botanically woke faces.

Yup, everything about this fern is happy and healt-

WOAH! You see what I see??



Oh god please no!

It’s the bane of indoor plants existence. The horrid mealy bug, a sap sucking insect that attacks stressed plants. The worst part though is that there is never just one…

GOD uses these little guys to punish the sins of houseplant people who don’t take care of their plants well enough. If you catch them in the beginning its not a big deal but left unchecked they can quickly cause a plants health to decline.

Look at these nasty, downy, bastards taking advantage of my negligence

They like to hide in spots where they can get the most phloem out of the plant they are on. Luckily I got just the ticket.

It’s not as good as permethrin or imidacloprid but it’ll get the job alright.

Because it’s not absolutely frigid today I’ll have enough time to bring this outside and spray it down. I fully saturate the top and bottom of every leaf. I’ll undoubtedly miss one or two mealybugs, but this should hold their population long enough to make it to spring. Outside mealybugs are completely bodied by every predator that exists, but inside there is nothing to control them except for me.

He and his ponytail palm buddy are gonna stay out here for a bit while they dry off. While that’s going on, lets go check out some plants I like to call “Liar Ferns”

This plant is not a Fern, it’s merely a pretender. It’s actually a flowering plant in the asparagus family, hence its common name, the asparagus fern. Aside from having flowers and fruits the next way you can tell it’s not a fern is the lack of any fertile fronds. The leave it has grow straight out instead of in a spiral, everything about it gives it away except for that it looks fern like. Try as it might it can’t trick me however.

The last dead giveaway is that the stems it has have the ability to grow on wards from that point with new leaves and stems. Something ferns do not have the ability to do, as ferns can only grow from a basal meristem.

Here is another true fern. I think it’s called a heart fern? I really don’t know though, but I don’t think it maters too much. It’s not going to live much longer. I currently have it in a terrarium where it was doing fine but now there is something in there eating its leaves. I cant see any pests in there so I’m at a bit of a loss. Usually the resident geckos (Euydactyolodies) that live in there would eat any trespassers but somehow this thing is going unnoticed.

It’s also shriveling up for seemingly no reason, but only random leaves. Thoughts and prayers and press F to pay respects.

Here is the only fern I can reliably grow and reproduce, I’ve had it for almost ten years and it lives in my fish tank. Its called a Java Fern Leptochilus pteropus. This is a fully (Or partially) aquatic fern and it likes to do things a little different from the others we’ve talked about so far.

This fern can asexually reproduce by growing along a rhizome and clone its self. This fern has no true lifespan. Another cool thing is the way it reproduces sexually. Well sexually(ish) It’s called Apomixis and its a bit of a rarity in the botanical world. Remember the gametophyte phase of a ferns lifespan? That phase still happens, but internally Inside the indusium part of the leaf of the sporophyte fern.

This fern can also grow in a riparian environment

The roots that are attached to the rhizome are pretty cool too. They actually pull all of their nutrients straight from the water column. If you try to plant this fern in the soil it will die. The roots, rhizome and fronds must all be free floating for this plant to thrive, eventually if there is wood or something in the tank the roots will cling to it for support but will still grow out into the water column.

I love how prolific they are, I have so many now that you cant even see into the tank anymore. I find myself often having to cull them and throw them out.

Anyways, I hope you guys enjoyed our fern adventure. I know this post was a little longer than usual but I had to show you guys something that i love, but sadly cant really grow. It’s ironic to me, to know so much about these plants but to not be able to grow them. They are kind of like Lithops to me. The more I think about it there are few other plants I kill effortlessly as well. Maybe I should do a post on them next time? Anyways I realized lately my posts were mostly poetry, jokes and news about the new city tree ordinance I’m trying to pass so I wanted to get back to my roots so to speak. Thanks again to all my readers who’ve made it this far and good luck growing your ferns.

(Fern, fern, fen, fern, fertile frond, fern, fertile frond, fertile frond, fertile frond, fern, fern, fertile frond, fern, fern, fern, fern, fern, fern, fertile frond, fern, fertile frond, fern fertile frond, fern, fern, fern, fern, fern, fertile frond, fertile frond, fertile frond, fertile frond, fertile frond, fertile frond, fern, fertile frond, fern)


Author: garesgarden

ISA Certified Arborist, Amateur Botanist, and future Agricultural Engineer.

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