573 Polypodium polypodioidesCommon Names: Resurrection fern, Pleopeltis polypodioides (syn.) Family: Polypodiaceae (the polypody fern Family)
Resurrection fern is an epiphyte that grows attached to branches of forest trees and sometimes upon rocks or dry ground. This fern's long thin rhizomes grow creeping along narrow cracks or in the furrows of the host tree's bark. Along the length of the rhizome the fronds are arranged in a linear fashion. They are about 6 in (15 cm) long and 1.5 in (4 cm) wide. The fronds are deeply incised, cut all the way to the rachis (the leaf stem). When dry the resurrection fern is gray, scaly and curled up in wad, but when moisture returns the fronds resurrect becoming soft and green and unfurling to regain its original shape.
Polypodium polypodioides occurs in hardwood forests from Delaware to southern Illinois, south to Texas and Florida and throughout tropical America. It also occurs naturally in southern Africa! In the southeastern United States, resurrection fern is often found on large, spreading branches high up in old live oaks (Quercus virginiana). It is often associated with another interesting epiphyte, Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides).
CultureLight: Full sunlight to partial shade. Moisture: Resurrection fern can withstand periods of drought by curling up and rolling inward, like a fiddle head, thus exposing less surface area and protecting itself from evaporative water loss. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 11. Propagation: The rhizomes can be cut and divided into new plants.
You can maintain resurrection fern on the bark of an oak log, allowing it to dry out periodically, then spraying it with water to see it unfold in just minutes. But this weird little fern is at its best on living trees, especially large oaks. If resurrection fern isn't already growing naturally on trees in your garden, you can gather a starter plant from a fallen branch in the woods and inoculate your own trees. Get several inches of the thin rhizome and squeeze it into furrows in the bark of its new host.
Resurrection fern is not a parasite. It gets its water and nutrients from rain and dust, and causes no harm to the tree that supports it. This little plant is sometimes sold as a novelty item in gift shops and as a mail-order "miracle plant" on the back covers of comic books and magazines.
Steve Christman 9/27/99; updated 12/6/99, 3/1/03, 10/17/03, 3/11/16