As the Easter season has just concluded and Pentecost has begun, I think it is appropriate to draw your attention to the Easter theme of resurrection as it manifests itself in the world of plants. While the annual blooming of the Spring wildflowers can be seen as a process of resurrection, there is one member of our flora whose process of “death” and “rebirth” occurs with greater frequency. The resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides) is an epiphyte found growing on rock faces, colluvium, or on the trunks and branches of trees. One of the favorite habitats and common habitats associated with the species are oak trees. In fact, if you look at one of the stately white oaks out front of All Saints’ Chapel you can find a healthy population of the fern. This fern gets its name from its ability to survive prolonged periods of drought by curling its fronds and appearing brown or grey, ostensibly in a desiccated, “dead” state. Being an epiphyte and lacking a true root system, the fern does not have water trapped in the soil to sustain it through difficult times, but has evolved this strategy of drying in times of drought and springing back to life, regaining color and shape whenever water is present. While certainly not an easy life, the process of death and rebirth this plant goes through makes for a spectacular display of a unique life history strategy, as can be seen in this video. It is this process and the presence of this species as a notable member of our Southern flora that has captured the imagination of many, as evidenced in this song by contemporary musician Iron and Wine . While unique as an epiphytic fern, the reproductive system of this plant resembles that of other ferns. If you look closely at the right time of the year, you can find the sori on the underside of the fronds filled with the spores that are the vehicles of reproduction for this species. As you hike along, reflecting on the the Easter season past, look out for these unique ferns, a symbol of resurrection in the world that carries a significance greater than the process of drying and rejuvenating.
This Fern is Risen Indeed