Resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides) is an evergreen epiphyte that carpets the shady branches of large trees, like oaks. Along the Hammock Trail, look for resurrection ferns growing on the oak that is leaning near the saw palmettos and the first slash pine on the left side of the trail.
Resurrection fern attaches to a host tree with creeping, branching rhizomes. As with all epiphytes, the fern does not obtain food from the host tree. Instead, it gets its nutrients directly from the air and from water and nutrients that collect on the tree bark.
The common name for this species, "resurrection fern" describes its ability to survive long periods of drought.
As shown in the first photograph, during drought, fronds dry and curl with their bottom surface pointing up. They become grey-brown and look dead. A frond can lose up to 97% of its moisture and still survive. Most plants die after losing 10% of their moisture. It is estimated that resurrection fern could remain in this dehydrated state for a century and still survive.
As shown in the second and third photographs, with a little moisture, the ferns rehydrate and "resurrect." The fronds uncurl and become a vivid yellow-green color within about 24 hours.
As shown at right, a mature resurrection fern frond is 25 cm long, 5 cm wide, and leathery. The pinnae (leaflets) are oblong.
The fern is the sporophyte stage of Pleopeltis polypodioides. It produces spores from summer to fall on the bottom side of otherwise normal-appearing leaves. As seen in the photograph, sori (clusters of spore-producing structures) are visible through the leaf.
Spores are transported by the wind and deposited on moist tree branches. From each spore, either a male or female gametophyte develops. Mature gametophytes are small, live only a short time, and reproduce sexually to produce a new fern.
A resurrection fern accumulates debris around its rhizomes. This mini-environment is soil-like and made from the fern's own dead fronds, mosses, and other residues on the tree, or carried in the air. Many tiny organisms depend on this mini-environment for survival.
© Photographs and text by Susan Leach Snyder (Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer).
Please report errors to Susan Snyder @ firstname.lastname@example.org