Fern reproduction remains a bit of a mystery to me. A mystery that borders on the ‘magical’ when tiny ferns appear growing out of the mosses along the paths of our back garden. This two-step sexual reproduction appeared on Earth untold millions of years ago, allowing the first plants to recombine their genetic materials to produce new generations of some algae, mosses, liverworts, and finally ferns, the earliest vascular plants.
Most of our familiar plants produce seeds after fertilization of their flowers or cones with pollen. The pollen may be carried from one plant to another by a pollinating insect or other animal, or by the wind. Ferns, and other simple plants, don’t produce seeds. The microscopic activities of their spores are all but invisible to our eye. So, I am curious, and am studying others’ successes with fern propagation so I might learn to propagate my favorite ferns, too.
I have been studying the Hardy Fern Foundations Spring 1998 Special Publication on Fern Propagation where a dozen experienced growers describe their methods for propagating ferns. Their essays explain reproduction from spore, and they also describe their own methods for collecting and sowing spore to successfully raise a crop of ferns.
Ferns have successfully propagated themselves in nature, with no human assistance, for millennia. So it shouldn’t be too complicated, right? These very knowledgeable writers describe strategies that lead to success, and also explain how inattention to detail can lead to failure.
My first successes in growing baby ferns from spore were entirely accidental. Spore from potted ferns on my deck fell onto potting soil that I sealed up in a zip-lock bag for the winter while I waited for some seeds I’d sown in that shallow container of potting soil to germinate. At first, I thought a nice crop of moss was growing on the soil. As I kept checking the container every few weeks this spring, I was amazed and delighted to recognize tiny ferns growing from the green structures on the soil I had thought would become mosses.