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Ferns; It’s Importance and General Characteristics

Updated on May 26, 2015

Ferns are spore-producing plants under Phylum Pteridophyta that are commonly named for any of a division of cryptogamous. The name comes from the Greek word “Pteron” which means “feather” and “Phyton” which means plants pertaining to the appearance of the leaves of the bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus). But lately, under a more recent system of classification, ferns are placed now under Phylum Filicinophyta that comes from the Latin word “Filic” which means ferns.

Ferns are estimated to have 6000 to 15,000 species with about 150 Genera and can be found throughout the world. Most of the ferns grow in shady places, damps although some species grow on dry ground, rocks and soil. In fact, some ferns grow in rocky places like in fissures and crevices on stiff places and in rocks. Ferns are also air plants (Epiphytes) on trees.

Ferns are considered one of the oldest and earliest land plants. Some of the fern fossils have been found in the stones of the Lower Devonian Period. Fern usually appeared earlier than gymnosperm or seed-bearing plants. They were the dominant form of vegetation during the Pennsylvanian and Mississippian periods which was about 300 million years ago.

General Characteristic of Ferns

Ferns have varied sizes. Ferns are also known to be shade-loving plants. Some ferns are relatively large, butthey are generally short because most of the fern’s leaves are anchored directly to the ground or on tree trunks.

In tropical regions, tree ferns may reach a height of 80 feet. This type of ferns has woody trunks without branches, and with clusters of leaves like feathers (fronds). But most of the ferns have no trunks rather they have fronds that grows directly from a short underground stem.

Ferns have two generation of reproductive cycle:

  • Asexual Reproduction – Also known as “Sporophyte”
  • Sexual Reproduction – Also known as “Gametophyte”

There are two major groups of ferns:

  • Leptosporangiate
  • Eusporangiate

Ferns are slightly the same with gymnosperm though they differ in their reproductive structure because ferns have spores while seed-bearing plants have seed as their reproductive structure though ferns are similar to bryophytes in this aspect.

How To Grow Ferns

fern via morgueFile
fern via morgueFile | Source

Life Cycle of Ferns

The following events in sexual phase or gametophyte generations:

  1. Fern spore grows into a short green filament.
  2. The filament becomes a heart-shaped prothalus that is anchored to the soil by means of root-like rhizoids.
  3. The antheridium (male reproductive organ) and archegonium (female reproductive organ) grow on the upper surface of the prothalus.
  4. The antheridium induces plenty of sperms and the archegonium induces a single egg. Since the prothalus gives rise to sperms and eggs it is called the gametophyte of the fern.

The following events in asexual phase or sporophyte generation:

  1. Through the process of fertilization; the egg inside the archegonium fuses with the sperm from the antheridium.
  2. The fertilized egg or zygote develops into a young fern plant which sprouts to a mature size.
  3. Sporangia produce spores on the lower surface of the fronds and released when mature. Sorus is a cluster of sporangia (plural for sori). Since the familiar leafy fern plants produces spores it is the sporophytes of the fern.

Importance of Ferns

Ferns belong to the first tropic level of various food chains/webs in the biosphere as they are considered producers too. Below are some of the important roles of ferns:

1. Ferns are used by people for ornamental purposes

2. Fern is a source of food

  • In Philippines, an edible fern called “pako” grows abundantly in shady streams. The young fronds fern leaves are cooked with coconut milk and shrimp. Oftentimes, it is eaten as salad.
  • Certain ferns found in Asia and South seas have rhizomes or underground stems that are used for food.

3. Made and used as binding and decorative purposes

  • In Philippines, a fern called “nito” is made into anahaw fans, native headwear (salakot) and ladies handbags.

4. Tropical species of ferns are used as pot plants.

  • In United States, a large number of native ferns are grown in gardens or backyards.

Related Articles that you can also read:

References ; Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia , Science and Technology by Lilia M. Rabago Ph. D , Crescensia C. Joaquin Ph.D, Catherine B. Lagunzad , PH. D, Encarta

Do you have tried eating an edible fern like "pako"?

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    • profile image

      Soma 5 months ago

      Very helpful answer............

    • profile image

      khalis 2 years ago

      pls i went kw

    • profile image

      khalis 2 years ago

      pls i went ln

    • KenDeanAgudo profile image

      Kenneth C Agudo 4 years ago from Tiwi, Philippines

      Hello Pearldiver ;

      I was flabbergasted about your message. I am also happy too. Oh really that is nice i will gonna check it out also ;-)

    • Pearldiver profile image

      Rob Welsh 4 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

      Excellent effort on a subject that I have always had an interest with. I wrote a poem called Fern: Enduring Colors of Life.. which gives a different perspective on these awesome plants.. their moods. Cooked fronds taste like asparagus and really are a bush tucker that could save your life if you were lost the bush... thanks for sharing.. all the best.. PD