Fern Facts

    • image_sci_plant003Ferns are a very old group of plants. They first appeared on Earth in the middle Devonian Era about 360 million years ago, just before the Carboniferous Era. Most of the modern fern families we see today first appeared in the Late Cretaceous about 45 or 50 million years ago – during the age of the dinosaurs!
    • Ferns appeared long before the first flowering plants evolved. The early fossil record shows that giant tree ferns and cycad palms were the only plants for millions or tens of millions of years. The organic matter of these ferns and cycads accumulated to such a thickness that they were deposited in deep layers, and combined with the Earth’s heat they were compressed and converted to create the coal, gas and oil deposits that we use as our main sources of energy today.
    • Over 12,000 fern species have been identified, but since new ones are being discovered yearly the actual number of ferns on Earth today may be as high as 20,000.
    • Ferns exist on all continents except Antarctica.
    • Ferns belong to the botanical group known as Pteridophyta, and although an ancient plant like mosses, ferns have xylem and phloem - making them vascular plants with stems, leaves, and roots like other vascular plants.
    • Ferns reproduce via spores and have neither seeds nor flowers.
    • Around 441 fern species are native to North America (i.e., north of Mexico). This is larger than that of Europe, which has about 175 species.
    • East Asia as four to five times as many ferns as North America. China alone contains an estimated 2000 fern species, and the island of New Guinea has a similar number.
    • Mexico has one of the most diverse fern floras of the world, with approximately 1000 species, about 18% of which are found nowhere else.
    • As a general rule, Native American ferns survive the continent’s weather extremes better than those ferns introduced from overseas. Ferns from Ireland and Great Britain are acclimatized to cool moist weather. However, it is notable that most Chinese and Japanese ferns do quite well in America.
    • From 1880 to 1900, ferns were so popular in England that there was a so-called “a fern craze” (“pteridomania”). English city dwellers took excursions to the woodlands to collect ferns to take back to their homes and estates, nearly stripping some areas ferns. Many fern books were published during this time and new names were created for new varieties for every difference in frond (leaf) shape. Artists and craftsmen used fern foliage motifs in stonework, furniture, pottery, china, art, etched glass, linen, woodwork, and iron castings. These old books and fern theme artworks are now very expensive collector items. Pteridomania was such a social phenomenon in 19th Century England that several books have been written on the subject.
    • In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen as all plants do, Boston-type ferns also eliminate significant amounts of formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene. This was confirmed by a NASA study designed to understand how to remove irritant and cancer-causing air pollutants that are emitted by every day objects in our indoor environments. More information on this topic is available here.
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