Fern will rise from the dead
Mississippi Gardens Newspaper and Web Column - July 18, 2005
The drastic difference in the appearance of Resurrection Fern depends on the amount of moisture available to the plant. The fern on the right needs to be resurrected from the dead.
Many plants get our attention because of their beautiful blooms, exotic appearance or magnificent size and structure. However, one plant, the Resurrection Fern, is intriguing for other reasons...primarily its ability to virtually rise from the dead. Its otherwise green, lush leaves dry and whither in hot, dry conditions, but flourish once again when moist conditions return.
The Resurrection Fern, Polypodium polypodioides, is an epiphyte or "air plant". Epiphytes are usually found growing on other plants, but make their own food the same way other green plants do. Nutrients and moisture are obtained from the air or where they may collect on the surface of a host plant. Some other well known epiphytes include orchids, bromeliads and Spanish moss.
Resurrection Fern is very often seen growing on pecan and live oak trees where it creates a mossy green blanket of foliage on tree trunks and branches. Its rhizomes easily attach to the deep cracks and fissures of tree bark where a firm hold is easily obtained and moisture is readily available during rainy spells. Leaves vary slightly, but are generally about three to four inches long, an inch wide and deeply incised. One would think the mass of foliage created by Resurrection Fern would be detrimental to the host plant, but contrary to what might be expected it, causes no harm.
The most dramatic quality of Resurrection Fern is its ability to dry down to a gray, gnarled crispy appearance during dry, hot weather. This defense against heat and drought is actually a means of survival. However, within hours of rainfall the Resurrection Fern springs back to life with its green color and turgid look restored.
If desired, Resurrection Fern may be introduced to trees and dry, rocky settings. Rhizomes are the stem-like part of the plant that lies against the tree and from which the leaves arise. Gather six inches or so of the rhizomes and place them securely into bark ridges of the new host tree.
For an interesting experiment, find a tree with dried Resurrection Fern close enough to the ground so that it can be easily reached. Select a patch of dry fern and water only half the patch once per hour for about four hours. A mist bottle of water will work best but the fern will also respond to a cupful of water poured on the bark at each watering. Early signs of resurrection can be seen in about an hour. Take advantage of one of creation's simple mysteries and try this fun experiment with your kids or grandkids. Happy gardening!
These archived columns were written by Kerry Johnson<, a hobby gardener, former weekly newspaper columnist and retired Extension Horticulture Agent for 11 coastal counties in Mississippi.