Ferns are typically known to propagate themselves using spores present on the backside of their leaves. Some of them also spread through underground rhizomes. However, some will form plantlets along the fronds, which either drop off into the soil and take root or the entire frond may lay down and the plantlets along the frond take root. When a plant forms plantlets on a leaf, it is called a viviparous plant. Plants living in sheltered moist forests are the most likely to be viviparous, and ferns certainly fit the bill.
The maidenhair fern, or Adiantum, is a fern with wiry black stems and light green leaves, and the fronds are arranged like a fan. Overall, they have a very airy delicate appearance. Most Maidenhair Fern is tropical, however many grow in the temperate moist areas of the Pacific Northwest area of the U.S. Maidenhair ferns reproduce by spores, but are also viviparious. While propagation of spores may be difficult, propagating the plantlets is easy. Simply cut the frond and pin against the soil allowing the bottom of the plantlets to touch the soil, and soon they will take root.
The mother fern, or Asplenium, is also known as spleenwort. Many ferns for the Asplenium genus look very different from each other. Some are delicate and fern-like, but others have solid fronds without any splits and don’t resemble typical ferns. All are evergreen and need ample shade and water. They are very susceptible to slug and snail damage. Not all of them form plantlets along the leaves. The mother fern is a variety that has deeply divided leaves and forms plantlets along its fronds. You can lay the fronds on the soil until the plantlets form roots.
Chain fern, or Woodwardia, is a fern native to an area that ranges from British Columbia to Mexico. It can take full sun if the soil is wet, but usually prefers partial to full shade and ample water. The fronds are leathery and dark green, and although they can reach 9 feet tall in coastal forests, they need extremely favorable conditions to reach that height. The average height is about 4 to 5 feet in the garden setting. Plantlets grow when the fronds or the plantlets fall to the ground.
The Java fern, or Microsorum, is an aquatic fern often used in fish tanks. It originates, as the name suggests, from the watery areas of Java, but can be found anywhere from the tropical areas of Australia to China. Plantlets form along the fronds, and are often dislodged by fish or other plants that brush against it or even by the water current. The Java ferns that are usually seen in fish tanks don’t have split fronds, but other ferns of the Microsorum genus do.
- American Fern Journal; Plantlet Formation in Tropical Montane Ferns: A Preliminary Investigation; Suzanne Kopter, et at.; 1993
- “The Book of Gardening, A Handbook of Horticulture”; JM Abbot et al; 1900
- “The Florist’s Manual”; William Scott; 1906
- “Ferns: Asplenium, Hemidictyum, Ceterach, Scolopendrium”; EJ Lowe; 1868
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