What do the words walking, resurrection, ostrich, sensitive, Christmas and hairy lip have in common?

Add “fern” to each, and you will have the common names of six species of ferns growing in the Midwest.

These are just a few of the 11,000 species of ferns found throughout the world, including a new genus of 19 ferns named after Lady Gaga.

Ferns are ancient plants. When dinosaurs roamed the earth, they could hardly turn around without running into ferns.

Ferns range from less than one-half inch in diameter to almost 80 feet tall. The leaf — or frond — shape is also highly variable. Since water is needed for reproduction, most species prefer moist areas.

However, some ferns are adapted for living in dry habitats and can be found on rocky glades. Several species of ferns color the woodland understory during the winter by staying green throughout the year.

Ferns produce spores instead of seeds. Small, rust-colored spots found on the underside of a leaf blade are actually spore producers called sporangia. Spores are released and germinate into an unusual life stage not often seen by casual observers — a small, tiny heart-shaped leaf. In it, an egg is fertilized and grows into the life stage of the fern we notice.

About 60 kinds of ferns grow in the Midwest in a variety of habitats.


• The Resurrection Fern can lose up to 75 percent of water in dry periods and “come back to life” when exposed to water and transforms from a brown clump to green and healthy leaves.

• It gets its name from this supposed resurrection but the plant does not die during this process. Most other plants can only lose about 10 percent of water content before they die.

• They favor oak trees as an anchor for better positioning for sunlight exposure and water collection.

• A Resurrection Fern was taken into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1997 for astronauts to watch its “resurrection” in zero gravity.

• It has been used as a diuretic, remedy for heart problems and treatment for infections.

By Peg Craft


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