Garden Talk

with Rebecca Jordi

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Q: My neighbor wants to cut down here tree because it is covered with a small fern. She seems to think this means the tree is dying. Will this fern kill the tree?

Resurrection fern

Resurrection fern

A:   I am so glad you brought in a photo of the fern as this made it very easy for me to identify the fern as Resurrection fern, Pleopeltis polypodioides. This plant is native to Florida and found in moist areas and sometimes on the trunks of trees.  Resurrection fern is classified as an epiphyte, similar to Spanish moss and “air” plants.  It uses the trunk of the tree as a place of attachment but does not derive any of its nutrients from the tree but instead takes moisture and nutrients from the outer surface of the bark.  Because it does not form true roots it must live in areas where the air is continually moist.  The name resurrection comes from the plant appearing to be dead and dried up but once the rains come and moisture returns the plant suddenly comes back to life.  Resurrection fern is not a parasite and it will not kill the tree.  Having Resurrection fern on the trunk of the tree does not indicate the tree is dying or in decline.  However, it does indicate the area is moist and conditions are perfect for the fern to thrive.