Story Behind the Science
Ferns have been around for over 300 million years and were the most populous plant during the Carboniferous Period, often called the Age of Ferns. Though most ferns became extinct over time, thousands of species remain today, making up the majority of the plant group Pteridophyta. This group also contains other plants called “fern allies,” though this term is currently debatable.
Ferns are non-flowering, vascular plants that produce spores to reproduce. They are most commonly found in moist environments, with 70 percent living in tropical climates and the other 30 percent in temperate climates. These plants have many uses, as they are valuable for economic, environmental, medicinal and even decorative purposes. Ferns have an important role in their environments, as their rhizomes aid in soil stabilization through their natural structure, and the plants’ root systems control erosion by adding moisture to the soil they grow in.
Vascular plants all over the world face the common threats of habitat loss and degradation. Habitat loss can be the result of human practices like building construction and agricultural production. It can also result from natural causes like forest fires, floods and other similar processes. Habitat degradation is slightly different, as it includes pollution in addition to the trampling of plants by humans or animals.
Both overharvesting and the introduction of invasive species are also included in the broad spectrum of habitat degradation. Some vascular plants are treasured for their beauty or medicinal value, but by collecting too many of a specific species of plants, overharvesting may occur. Likewise, invasive species have negative effects on the native plants that they live amongst. When invasive plant species are introduced, they compete for growing space and the natural resources needed for all vascular plants to survive. Additionally, invasive species can also introduce new diseases to native species, while hybridization of native and invasive plants weakens the native plant gene pool.
Did You Know?
- Ferns are easy to maintain and thrive in moist environments, so they are often used for decorative and ornamental purposes.Learn More »
- Flowering plants (also called angiosperms) make up 95 percent of all vascular plants.Learn More »
- Ferns release spores, rather than seeds, to reproduce.Learn More »
- Vascular plants have an internal vascular system made up of xylem and phloem, while nonvascular plants do not have an internal transport system.Learn More »
- Of all plants, ferns are second in greatest diversity of species to flowering plants (aka angiosperms).Learn More »
|Compare & Contrast||Ferns||Vascular Plants|
|How many species?||12,000||Over 352,000|
|Where do they occur?||Ferns are common throughout the world but are most abundant in moist, shaded environments like tropical and temperate rainforests. They can be found in many other places, though, such as along streams and rivers and even in desert-like climates.||Vascular plants can be found on land everywhere in the world.|
|How do they grow?||Ferns grow through a combination of water, nutrients and light.||Oxygen and sugars are the sole food sources of vascular plants. They are attained during photosynthesis, converted from water and carbon dioxide through energy provided by the sun.|
|Do they have predators?||Nematodes, beetles, ants, snails, slugs, caterpillars, moths, crickets, fungi and more||Herbivores|
Kenneth Kramm, “Resurrection Fern, A Plant With Amazing Superpowers: Time-Lapse”
Conservation Organizations for Ferns & Vascular Plants
- American Fern Society
- British Pteridological Society
- Plant Conservation Day, Botanic Gardens Conservation International
- Center for Plant Conservation
- Kew Royal Botanic Gardens
- Ferns of Australia and PNG, Australian National Herbarium
- Conserving the Native Ferns of Antigua and Barbuda, The Environmental Awareness Group