Resurrection Fern Timelapse
February 26th, 2018
From ‘Harlow and Hickman’s Heteroclitical Horticulture Handbook’
While walking through the bleak wintry landscape, it is hard to imagine that in just a short amount of time the earth will spring back to life again. In all of my travels collecting plant specimens, I have been hard-pressed to find any plant that represents the coming of spring more than the Selaginella lepidophylla also known as the resurrection fern, flower of stone, and False Rose of Jericho among many other common names. Native to the rocky desert regions of the Mexican Chihuahuan desert, this ancient spikemoss is a special lycophyte often found moving about in a similar fashion to tumbleweeds. The resurrection fern is no stranger to extreme environmental conditions, but what is a little green plant to do when there is no water available? At first glance the stems are curled up, forming a compact ball that looks similar to a bird’s nest. In most situations, as a gardener and scientist, I would disregard this mass of desiccated foliage, but in this case that would be a horrible mistake! Similar to wildflowers in a desert, this nondescript, brown clump explodes to life when water is added to the equation.
4k Youtube Link: https://youtu.be/joQCxH_EeUc
“Within less than 12 hours, the resurrection plant goes from a brown mass to a flat, green, flower-like structure.”
The thick yet brittle outer stems loosely curl around the entire structure, protecting the more tender central growth from surrendering every ounce of moisture. The central stems are tightly spiraled around themselves as an added protection. The plant can lie in waiting for years without water. Once you place this fascinating specimen in a saucer of water, submerging the lower roots, the magic begins to happen. The leaves slowly unfurl from the outside in, to reveal a green rosette composed of fronds. It looks remarkably like a giant form of the spikemoss samples I have collected on my travels to the northwestern regions of the Americas. . This physiological process is known as hydro-actuated strain gradient for all you science fanatics. Within less than 12 hours, the resurrection plant goes from a brown mass to a flat, green, flower-like structure. The process of dehydrating and rehydrating can be repeated multiple times without causing any mechanical damage to the leaves, inspiring lots of research for the development of future inventions.
“The curling and unfurling… was often used as a demonstration tool by Spanish missionaries to represent resurrection in a physical form.”
Another interesting defense that this plant has is found at the cellular level. Air-filled canals run through the leaves, separating different parts of the plant. The cells are also smaller and denser and have thicker walls than many other plants. This reduces the amount of water the plant requires and allows it to dry out and rehydrate readily and for significant periods of time, with minimal damage to the foliage. The curling and unfurling is actually a very complicated scientific process that has been studied extensively and was often used as a demonstration tool by Spanish missionaries to represent resurrection in a physical form.
“Where can I get the seeds for this spectacular plant?”, you may ask. Well, I am sorry to say that these specimens produce through spores, similar to other mosses and ferns. These spores are often spread when the wind blows, or while they tumble through the desert wasteland. They have also been known to propagate from branches that are snapped off while they are rolling around. These little pieces of plant can sprout roots if the conditions are right. Although spores and cuttings are often not available, you may be able to find complete plant specimens from the great merchant Amazon –although, buyers beware! There are many false merchants out there so be sure to listen to what other people are saying about the product to make sure that it is the correct plant. This particular plant has many common names that are shared with other plants not even closely related. For example, it is commonly referred to as the Rose of Jericho or False Rose of Jericho, however, another plant also goes by these names: Anastatica hierochuntica – which is in an entirely different family (Brassicaceae or mustard family)! This helps stress the importance of using scientific nomenclature over common names.
“The curling and unfurling is actually a very complicated scientific process that has been studied extensively and was often used as a demonstration tool by Spanish missionaries to represent resurrection in a physical form.”
Although these plants are loved for simply being oddities, they have been known to have other uses. One can boil the dried-out leaves in water to make a tea that can soothe sore throats and ease the symptoms of a cold. I must offer a word of caution to any hopeful herbalists out there: please do not dabble in making herbal remedies without either the blessing of a physician or significant horticultural knowledge. Mixing up the Treble- Fs (flora, fauna, and fungi) is very common and dangerous and can lead to severe illness or even death. If you are not sure of EXACTLY what a plant is supposed to look like in all forms (different growing stages, dried out, flowers, etc.) and what the common uses or modes of consumption are (fresh, dried, cooked, boiled etc), I encourage you to never experiment with making home remedies. Be very wary of false information and sources!
With these words of warning, I must bid you adieu until our next installment of the Pent-H files. Although these next few weeks of winter may seem bleak, always remember that we are surrounded by a spring that just has not yet emerged. Do as the Selaginella lepidophylla does and keep yourself curled up and safe until the environment is favorable for you to bloom.
Miss Harlow Stockard
Botanist, horticulturist, herbalist, plant collector extraordinaire