Sensitive Fern

June 26, 2010 at 6:21 pm Leave a comment

Ferns can seem pretty unremarkable at first. They don’t have spectacular flowers — in fact, they don’t have flowers at all. They’re kind of like a bass player in a band; they’re subtle and unassuming, but absolutely critical and really cool, and everything is just tacky without them.

Ferns are very ancient. They dominated the land long before the dinosaurs. As a result, their reproductive cycle is weird and somewhat primitive. They produce spores, and these develop into a romantic heart-shaped structure that has both male and female sex organs. With the help of water, sperm swim from the male part of the structure to the female part, and this union produces the baby fern. Flowering plants eventually overshadowed the ferns because they figured out how to get it on without this lubricating water.

The Sensitive Fern is found in the eastern half of North America, and also in East Asia. It’s a good fern to learn first because it has a unique look. It’s bright green, and it has a “rough” shape, as if a kid did a sloppy job of cutting it out of a piece of construction paper. It keeps its spores in a separate brownish leaf that appears in about July.

Early European settlers in North America gave the Sensitive Fern its name because it shrivels at the first hint of frost. It also has demanding needs in terms of moisture and shade. But the Sensitive Fern makes up for this sensitivity by packing powerful toxins that can seriously harm any animal that decides to take a bite.

In the urban environment, the Sensitive Fern is often found in shady gardens, playing steady bass to the electric guitars and trumpets of the flowers, and lookin’ cool.

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Entry filed under: Herbaceous plants.

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