While many of the plants in the rainforest have been around for millions of years, ferns have been around for much longer than that! They appeared in the fossil record dating back to 325 million years ago. They are one of the earliest vascular plant forms on the planet (plants which circulate water internally) and they preceded the flowering plants, the conifers and even the cycads - all of which have a more advanced means of reproduction. 40 species of ferns are endemic to the Wet Tropics (occur nowhere else) and there are many interesting species but only a few special ones are profiled here.
A primitive looking fern indeed is the Tassel fern and with good reason - its fossils have been identified to much larger specimens from the Carboniferous period. Two very different forms of the Tassel fern (also known as Clubmoss) are almost opposite to each other in habit. The first is a ground creeping version sometimes called the Pine Tree fern (Lycopodiella cernua) as it resembles miniature pine trees only 25cm (10 inches) tall. It prefers open sun and spreads along the ground, sending up vertical stems from along its length. If any of the tips of the erect fern should meet the soil, a new plant sprouts from the tip and grows upward to become a new vertical plant that sends out creepers. Visitors to the Flecker Botanic Gardens in Cairns can see this plant on display.
The other Tassel fern group of interest is an epiphytic one (grows on top of another plant but is not parasitic) which has been grown frequently as a hanging plant. The Common Tassel fern (Huperzia phlegmaria) likes warm, humid conditions with good air flow. At the end of each long "cat-tail" is a shorter green stem with tiny cones along its length. These contain the material for a most interesting means of reproduction: the cones release spores which drop into water, some spores being male and others being female. These spores are then fertilised in the water as they collide, becoming a seed which can then sprout a new plant.
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