A Cool Epiphyte of the Shortleaf Pine-oak-hickory Woodland and an E.O. Wilson Update
Resurrection Fern, Pleopeltis polypodioides, is a perennial fern that is evergreen except in periods of drought when the leaves turn brown as if the plant is dead. But when it rains its “resurrection” quickly occurs. The fern is common on Wafer Creek Ranch as it most often grows on the limb and trunk surfaces of hickories and oaks. It’s an epiphyte, meaning that it steals no nutrients or water from its host—it can even grow on rocks!
An old post oak cloaked by resurrection fern.
Resurrection fern can grow in the dappled sunlight of the upland woodland and just as well in the shaded forests of downslope zones. The plants are rhizomatous and the rhizomes sprout roots that are able to absorb water and nutrients. A close look at the host-tree’s trunk under the thick clusters of the leaves, stems and rhizomes will sometimes show how dust and other forms of mineral and organic debris from the air provide a soil humus-like layer for the fern’s nourishment.
The upper leaf surfaces of resurrection fern are smooth but the undersides present a different story.
The plant’s propagation is accomplished by its spore production. The leaf and stem undersurfaces are scaly, and the undersides of the leaves have round, rust-colored patches, called sori, that contain clusters of spores.
The scaly stems and leaf undersides with their rust-colored sori.
Another example of resurrection fern on a small post oak in our front yard.
The native range of this fern extends from South and Central America northward to the southern Midwest and from there eastward where it is mostly restricted to the Gulf and Atlantic coastal plain.
It’s interesting that according to the National Wildlife Federation, resurrection fern can cling to life even if it sustains a 75-97% loss of its water. Most other plants can’t survive more than about a 10% loss*.
Those of us who love nature and all her curious ways have lost our great teacher.
E.O Wilson, long-time Harvard professor and a south Alabama boy, died early this month at the age of 92. Leading evolutionary biologist and entomologist who first documented the appearance of fire ants (an invasive non-native insect of North America), Wilson was one of the world’s greatest naturalists and teachers.
Along with the late Thomas Lovejoy, he coined the term, “biodiversity,” which describes the number of species extant in a particular area – from our planet as a whole to the weedy lot next door. And through his books (winning two Pulitzers) and his activism he has been one of our greatest proponents and leaders in raising the alarm against the global destruction of ecosystems and species.
I have no doubt he would want us to keep up that fight. And so we will.
MORE ABOUT THE LIFE AND WORK OF E.O. WILSON
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Johnny Armstrong, Author
#Biodiversity advocate. Ecosystem Restorationist. Steward of an old-growth forest and woodland in northern Louisiana. #ForestFolkMatter #ScienceMatters
Rescuing Biodiversity (publishing in June 2023) tells the story of Johnny's attempts at Wafer Creek Ranch to preserve a vanishing Louisiana ecosystem and restore the animal and plant species that once lived there.
“An avowed student of life and restoration ecology, Johnny Armstrong expertly teaches us how to restore an imperiled southern ecosystem based on deep research, firsthand experience, and delighted observation of the species that return to his beloved Wafer Creek Ranch. Driving his devotion is the alarming truth that loss of biodiversity poses a threat on par with climate change and his impassioned belief that society can alter that trajectory, one acre at a time.”
Cindy Brown, Executive Director
Land Trust for Louisiana
“Up there on your bookshelf between Tolkien and Watership Down is where this book belongs. As an anthropomorphic adventure that winds through the realm of animals possessing courage, savagery, perseverance, and ultimately wisdom in the face of mounting evil threats – humans disconnected from the natural world – the tale is relevant, if not necessary.”
Kelby Ouchley, Author
Bayou Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country
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Shadowshine, An Animal Adventure
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