Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
Who doesn’t like plants that perform tricks? How about one that can literally come back from the dead?
What are Resurrection Ferns?
Resurrection ferns (Pleopeltis polypodioides) are epiphytic ferns that are native to Southeastern North America. They are hardy in zones 6 through 11 with a range that extends as far north as New York. Epiphytic ferns are similar to air plants. They do not grow in soil. Instead, they attach themselves to trees or rocks. They get their water and nutrients from both the surrounding air as well as any nutrients that collect on the surface to which they are attached. They are not parasitic. Parasitic plants attach themselves to other plants and get their water and nutrients from the plant host, sometimes killing them. Epiphytic plants do not harm their plant hosts. They merely use them as platforms.
Resurrection ferns are small ferns that grow in partial shade. Their fronds only grow to about 7 inches in length and 2 inches in width. They attach themselves to their hosts using rhizomes. Unlike conventional plants which have rhizomes that grow in soil which provides water and nutrients, the rhizomes of the resurrection fern do not absorb moisture and nutrients to benefit the plants. Instead, they are used for attachment to a host.
The ferns reproduce via spores rather than seeds. The spores are produced on structures called sori which are found on the undersides of the fronds. When they are mature, the spores are released and are carried on the winds to new hosts in the immediate vicinity. Spores are produced all summer and into the early fall.
Why are They Called Resurrection Ferns?
Resurrection ferns got their name from their ability to “come back from the dead” after long periods of dryness. During long periods with no rain, the plants go dormant. The fronds curl up and turn grayish brown. The plants look dead. In reality, they can lose up to 75% of their moisture without dying. Most plants can only sustain a loss of 10% of their moisture. Anything more than that and they die.
As soon as it rains again, the ferns appear to come back to life. The fronds uncurl and within 24 hours, they are green and healthy looking again.
How to Grow Resurrection Ferns Outdoors
Resurrection ferns are popular landscape plants in the southern parts of the US. Thanks to the mild climate, the ferns grow year round outdoors. Further north in zones 6 and 7, they will go dormant during the winter and start growing again in the spring.
Find a shady spot in your yard with a tree or a rock for your fern to grow on. Moisten a piece of peat moss and place it on top of a tree branch or rock. Place your fern on top of the peat moss and carefully tie the rhizomes in place with string over the top of the branch or rock. Instead of watering with a watering can or hose, spritz your plant with a mister every day until you see new growth that indicates the fern has stabilized in its new environment and it’s safe to remove the string holding it in place.
After that, the ferns require no care. They are native to the US so they are adapted to our climate conditions. They don’t need to be watered, even during the most severe drought conditions. There is no need to prune them since ferns are not pruned. And there is no need to weed them since weeds do not grow on tree branches or rocks.
How to Grow Resurrection Ferns Indoors as Houseplants
Resurrection ferns make wonderful houseplants, even for the most green-thumb challenged gardeners. They are shade plants so they like the lack of direct sunlight found in our homes. And if you forget to water them, no problem. They will curl up and go dormant until you remember to water them.
Most people “plant” their resurrection ferns on pieces of decorative driftwood. Place a piece of moistened peat moss on top of the driftwood, then place your fern on top on the peat moss and carefully tie the rhizomes in place with string. There is no need to water your fern with a watering can. Instead, spritz your plant with a mister every day until you see new growth. New growth means that your fern has adjusted to its new home. It is now safe to remove the string holding it in place.
You will have to fertilize a resurrection fern that is grown indoors because it will not be receiving any rain. Rainwater contains nutrients from the foliage of the trees that it washes from on its way down to ferns grown outdoors. Every 2 to 3 months, place a little soluble houseplant fertilizer in your spray bottle to provide the missing nutrients.
How to Grow Resurrection Ferns From Cuttings
Resurrection ferns are easy to grow from cuttings. You make the cuttings from the rhizomes. Cut a 6 inch piece from the end of a rhizome. Then plant the cutting as you would a whole plant. Place a moistened piece of peat moss on top of a branch, rock or driftwood, then place the cutting on top of the peat moss and tie it in place with a piece of string. Spritz the cutting every day until you see a new frond growing. Then spritz the frond once a week until it is full grown. After that, your fern will not require any special care.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why won't my resurrection fern grow? It has been dry for 4 days.
Answer: Is your fern indoors or outdoors? If you are growing your resurrection fern indoors as a houseplant, you need to mist your plant every day if you want it to continue growing. If you are growing your fern outdoors, you do not need to water it. It will resume growing the next time it rains.
© 2019 Caren White
Caren White (author) on February 20, 2020:
Betty, I have added a link in my article to Amazon so you can purchase resurrection ferns. Let me know how they grow for you.
Betty kleiss on February 20, 2020:
Where can you buy resurrection plants?
Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on November 01, 2019:
Thank you for an interesting article. I love growing ferns, although in our changeable climate it can be quite a challenge sometimes.