Golden Polypody (Phlebodium aureum) is a fern with many common names: golden serpent fern, cabbage palm fern, gold-foot fern, and hare-foot fern. This fern is native to the eastern side of continents in the tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas.
It often grows in the boot jacks of sabal palms, where it is an epiphyte. Epiphytes grow upon another plant, but are not parasitic. Golden polypody gets its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and debris that accumulates in the boot jacks. It is a fern with many creeping rhizomes (creeping rootstalks) that are covered in golden-brown scales. This characteristic may be the origin of the common names "gold-foot fern" and "golden polypody." "Polypody" translates to "many feet".
The fronds of golden polypody are large and deeply lobed. Each frond can have up to 35 pinnae (leaflets or segments). Each pinna is bright green or bluish-green with a wavy margin.
As shown at right, along the bottom of a pinna, and adjacent to its midrib, are two rows of round sori (a cluster of sporangia that produce and contain spores). Golden polypody reproduces asexually with these wind-dispersed spores.
Spores develop into gametophytes, the sexual generation of ferns. We do not usually see these very small gametophyte plants. We see the sporophyte generation shown in all of these photographs.
The sporophyte generation of a golden polypody fern is an ornamental plant as well as a herbal plant. In Central America, an extraction obtained by boiling the plant material is used as a tonic to treat asthma and heart disease.
© Photographs and text by Susan Leach Snyder (Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer).
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