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Back to life: The amazing resurrection fern

August 22, 2018
By BO CHERRY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

With the summer wet season in full swing, it is the perfect time of year to strap on hiking shoes - or water boots - and head outdoors for a look at the lush plant life in Southwest Florida's forests and swamps.

One of the most fascinating plants to see is the resurrection fern. The unique plant possesses the ability to withstand a significant amount of water loss during long dry periods, only to "resurrect" when it comes back into contact with water.

When its water reserves are nearly depleted, the leaves of the resurrection fern will shrivel up and turn brown, giving the plant the appearance that it is dead. In Florida, it typically occurs during the dry season months of January through May. However, once the fern receives water, generally after a period of rainfall, its shriveled leaves will unfurl and become green again.

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Several Conservation 20/20 preserves in Lee County include critical upland habitat to support the resurrection fern.

As an epiphyte, or air plant, the resurrection fern requires a host plant upon which to grow. Oak trees and cabbage palms are among the most common host plants for the resurrection fern. Although the fern uses the host plant to absorb nutrients, the relationship between the two plants is not parasitic. To survive, the fern simply collects nutrients and water on the outer surface of the host plant.

The resurrection fern also reproduces using spores instead of seeds. The spores of the plant appear in small circular clusters on the underside of its leaves, also called fronds, where they are stored until they are released.

Several Conservation 20/20 preserves in Lee County include critical upland habitat to support the resurrection fern.

One of the best places to see a high concentration of the plant is the Hickory Swamp Preserve in Fort Myers. The Conservation 20/20 land includes more than 60 acres of oak hammock and pine flatwoods, providing optimal habitat to observe the plant species. A 1.2-mile marked hiking trail is also available to the public

Visitors should bring plenty water and pack a camera. No plants are permitted to be collected from any Conservation 20/20 preserve; regulations are strictly enforced.

Hickory Swamp Preserve is at 13320 Peace Road. It is open daily during daylight hours; parking and entrance is free. The preserve does not include a restroom.

For more information or to access a trail map, visit

Bo Cherry is a Conservation 20/20 intern with the Lee County Department of Parks and Recreation.



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