The resurrection fern, also known as the miracle fern, has the ability to resurrect itself from the dead. In its “living form” it is full of lush green leaves stretching as long as 12 inches. However, during a drought it shrivels up into small, curly, brown leaves, thus appearing as though the plant has died. But, fear not, the plant is not actually dead. This is merely a survival mechanism for the plant. It contains special proteins called dehydrins that allow each cell in the plant to fold a certain way without bursting. Miraculously, within a matter of hours after the return of water to the plant, the leaves uncurl and restore to their normal bright green color, and as a result resurrecting from the dead. It is estimated that due to this survival mechanism the fern is able to live up to one hundred years without water. Furthermore, when a normal plant would die after losing about 12% of its water content, this miracle fern can survive until it has lost 97% of its water content.
This particular fern is an air plant, meaning that it grows on the bark of other trees, such as oaks and cypresses, and harmlessly obtains its water and built up nutrients from their surfaces. It is often found growing beside other similar air plants such as Spanish moss and orchids.
The resurrection fern is found throughout a large area of the United States, ranging from western Texas to southern New York. On Kiawah Island, and throughout the Lowcountry, this unique plant species is often found growing on live oaks.
To learn more about plants on Kiawah Island visit the Kiawah Conservancy’s Habitat Improvement Program website, www.sweetgrassaward.org.