Polystichum setiferum unrolling young frondFerns at Muir Woods, CaliforniaFerns at the Royal Melbourne Botanical Gardens
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Ferns

A fern is any one of a group of about 20,000 species of plants classified in the phylum or division Pteridophyta, also known as Filicophyta. more...

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The group is also referred to as Polypodiophyta, or Polypodiopsida when treated as a subdivision of tracheophyta (vascular plants). The study of ferns and other pteridophytes is called pteridology, and one who studies ferns and other pteridophytes is called a pteridologist. The term "pteridophyte" has traditionally been used to describe all seedless vascular plants, making it synonymous with "ferns and fern allies". This can be confusing since members of the fern phylum Pteridophyta are also sometimes referred to as pteridophytes.

Life cycle

Ferns are vascular plants differing from the more primitive lycophytes by having true leaves (megaphylls), and they differ from seed plants (gymnosperms and angiosperms) in their mode of reproduction - lacking flowers and seeds. Like all other vascular plants, they have a life cycle referred to as alternation of generations, characterized by a diploid sporophytic and a haploid gametophytic phase. Unlike the gymnosperms and angiosperms, the ferns' gametophyte is a free-living organism. The life cycle of a typical fern is as follows:

  1. A sporophyte (diploid) phase produces haploid spores by meiosis;
  2. A spore grows by cell division into a gametophyte, which typically consists of a photosynthetic prothallus
  3. The gametophyte produces gametes (often both sperm and eggs on the same prothallus) by mitosis
  4. A mobile, flagellate sperm fertilizes an egg that remains attached to the prothallus
  5. The fertilized egg is now a diploid zygote and grows by mitosis into a sporophyte (the typical "fern" plant).

Fern ecology

The stereotypic image of ferns growing in moist shady woodland nooks is far from being a complete picture of the habitats where ferns can be found growing. Fern species live in a wide variety of habitats, from remote mountain elevations, to dry desert rock faces, to bodies of water or in open fields. Ferns in general may be thought of as largely being specialists in marginal habitats, often succeeding in places where various environmental factors limit the success of flowering plants. Some ferns are among the world's most serious weed species, including the bracken fern growing in the British highlands, or the mosquito fern (Azolla) growing in tropical lakes, both species form large aggressively spreading colonies. There are four particular types of habitats that ferns are found in: moist, shady forests; crevices in rock faces, especially when sheltered from the full sun; acid wetlands including bogs and swamps; and tropical trees, where many species are epiphytes.

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