Thursday, June 14, 2012

Artistic Ferns

Species name: Athyrium niponicum

Common name: Japanese Painted Fern

Location: Ontario

As you can probably guess from either the common name or the Latin name, this species of fern is native to Japan. This species has had the variegated pattern of colour on the leaves selected for over hundreds of generations, leading to three main cultivars: one with silvery-grey leaves with a bright red stem ('Pictum'), one with yellow leaves and a bright red stem ('Red Beauty'), and one with silver, green and red leaves ('Metallicum'). Based on those three choices, the morphological characters of the Painted Fern growing in my back yard are most consistent with the 'Pictum' variety, but I'm guessing it's a different cultivar altogether.

Ferns are a group of land plants that first evolved in the Devonian as plants colonized land, between 359 and 416 million years ago. They quickly dominated the landscape, some growing to be hundreds of feet tall and looking like modern trees. Unlike the trees of today, ferns do not reproduce by making seeds. Instead, they make spores (like fungi!) and display a form of life cycle called alternation of generations. Once spores land in an area with a suitable amount of nutrients, the spore germinates and can grow into a type of plant called a gametophyte. This part of the fern life cycle is very tiny; often not being more than a centimeter across. This gametophyte produces eggs and sperm, which combine to make a zygote. This zygote has the potential, if in an environment with enough resources, to grow into a sporophyte. This sporophyte is what we traditionally think of when we think of a fern, and is what is pictured in the photos above. The sporophyte produces spores, and the cycle continues.

Some species of fern are used as a food source, but this is not one of them. Painted ferns are only used as an ornamental plant.