Giant leather fern (Acrostichum danaeifolium) is the largest native fern in Florida. It typically grows upright to a height of 6 feet, however it can grow to become 12 feet tall and 5 feet wide. The plant grows in width from underground rhizomes.
You will see giant leather fern growing at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center along the mangrove estuary as well as along the edge of the freshwater filter marsh at the Smith Preserve. Giant leather fern can grow in sun or shade and it is salt tolerant.
Fronds (leaves) are tough, like leather, and pinnately compound with between 20 and 60 pairs of leaflets on each leaf. Shown at left, leaflets are coarse with smooth margins. Fronds are either fertile or non-fertile. Non-fertile fronds are dark green above and pale green below.
Fertile fronds are taller and more erect than non-fertile fronds. As shown in the photograph at right, fertile fronds are green above and golden brown or reddish on the bottom. The frond bottom color is created by its brown or reddish spore cases. Like other ferns, leather ferns reproduce with spores. Spores from these spore cases produce young plants when they become embedded in moist soils.
Because of the spore cases, the bottom of fertile fronds have a texture somewhat like that of soft suede leather.
In the spring, giant leather ferns have new leaves called fiddleheads, a name given to them because the uncoiling frond resembles the top of a fiddle. A leather fern fiddlehead is edible and tastes like asparagus.
© Photographs and text by Susan Leach Snyder (Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer).
Please report errors to Susan Snyder @ firstname.lastname@example.org