Ferns are among the most ancient plants on earth, arising more than 350 million years ago. Along with another major group, the lycopods, ferns dominated the early land forests, thanks in part to their vascular systems. The evolution of this system to transport water and nutrients to all parts of the plant allowed them to grow much larger than the more primitive non-vascular plants. Ferns are common in many of the worlds ecosystems, and reproduce by spores as opposed to seed. Often associated with shady, wet forests, they grow in a surprising variety of habitats, including the deserts of the Southwestern US.
Our Fern Garden is designed to share the diversity and range of growth patterns within the fern group. Water fern (Azolla filicoides), a tiny aquatic fern no larger than a thumbtack, stands in contrast with the Australian tree fern (Cyathea cooperi), a towering fern which can grow to 50 feet in height. The Fern Garden, located adjacent to the Ancient Forest is a living approximation of the ancient forests of earth, and is used extensively in our teaching mission.