Field of Science

Oldest species on Earth is a fern

The antiquity of very few species has been documented, but most paleontologists estimate that species on average only persist for a few million years. Every now and then the fossil record provides direct evidence of a species with great antiquity, and the current record holder for the greatest antiquity of any living species is a fern. Here is the good part, you can grow this historic plant in your garden.

Fossils of Osmunda cinnamomea, cinnamon fern, were found in 70 million year old rocks! This discovery was published about 10 years ago, and no differences could be found between the fossil and the fern as it is today. So cinnamon fern was alive and well in the Late Cretaceous where it undoubtedly got stepped on and eaten by dinosaurs. Think about how many changes this fern has endured, the rise and diversification of both mammals and flowering plants. The cinnamon fern family is even older with a fossil record going back into the Carboniferous documenting a 300 million year history for this group of ferns.
The "cinnamon" in both the scientific and common name refers to the color of the fertile fronds (seen upright in the center of the image) and the spores they shed.

What a great plant to grow in your garden! It doesn't mind some shade, or wet areas, but is quite tolerant in general. And it is a big handsome fern too. How hard can cinnamon fern be to grow if it has managed to survive on its own for so long? First, prepare the soil with some well-composted dinosaur dung,....


ilex said...

And I'll bet those fiddleheads are edible... Mmmm, I love me some steamed fiddleheads, tossed with butter and sea salt and a dash of apple cider vinegar. So good.

Theresa said...

Absolutely fascinating. I thoroughly enjoy your blog posts!

ForestJane said...

Nice post!

And a question for you:

In the interest of reducing your carbon footprint even further, do you have a personal veggie garden? Or does minding the greenhouses keep you busy?

The Phytophactor said...

Holly correctly points out that the fiddle heads, the young, coiled fern fronds are edible.

To satisfy Forest Jane's curiosity, the Phactor does not manage any greenhouses, although he visits them regularily and uses their contents in many different ways. Having been raised in a gardening family, the Phactor would be hard pressed to live if there wasn't any garden to tend. So yes, a portion of my estate is intensively gardened for fruits and vegetables. However it is done for quality, for mental health, and as a way of life. If it helps my carbon footprint, then so much the better, but I probably wouldn't stop if it spit charcoal brickettes.

ForestJane said...

Can't ever satisfy my curiosity, I'm a librarian, so one question leads to another. :)

Will we get to see pix of your garden? I'm only container gardening, (as you can see on my blog) but always looking for ideas/info. If I'd done my research first, I wouldn't have started my squash the way I did, etc.

I wouldn't stop if I grew something that spit charcoal briquettes either, there'd be a huge market for that among the summer bbq-ing folks. *grins*
and if your carboarius respuere could be trained to aim the briquettes, when ripe, at garden predators, even better.

LarryS said...

Now that is interesting!!