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Resurrection Fern – Surviving the Dry Times

Water is essential for all living things and few organisms can go without water for long periods of time. Not so with Resurrection Fern that seems to come back from what appears to be certain death.

Also known as Miracle Plant, this sturdy plant has an exceptional ability to go long periods of time without water. This plant reportedly can lose as much as 97% of its water content during dry spells, only to be revived within hours of being wetted by the next rain. Most plants will die after losing from 8-12% of their water.

This dramatic change is aided by chemicals in the leaves that allow for normally rigid cell walls to fold, reducing the exposure of the fronds (leaves) during their dormant period without water. The fronds are thicker than most ferns, giving the plant a coarse look.

In many ways, this adaptation is related to the microhabitat where this plant is found. Resurrection Fern is an epiphyte – a plant the grows on other plants, in this case, the trunks and branches of oaks and cypress. Water is only available through rain or fog. Nutrients arrive by air or from water flowing across the bark of the host plant. During periods of drought, water is not readily available.

This fern has modified root-like holdfasts that form the attachment to the bark of its host tree. Much like Spanish Moss, the lush mats of Resurrection Fern add an exotic aspect to the trees upon which they live and do not harm the tree. These two epiphytes are often found together.

Take a close look at this amazing plant next time you see it. Note the toughness of the fronds and look for the yellow-brown circular fruiting bodies on the underside of mature fronds. These sori produce tiny spores that, when mature, float on the slightest of breezes to other trees.

And as with any plant microhabitat, other organisms, like spiders, mites, and other small insects make their home among the fronds. Take a close look and enjoy the sense of discovery of the hidden creatures in our natural world.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!


Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.


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