res·ur·rec·tion[rez-uh-rek-shuhn] - noun
the act of rising from the dead; rising again, as from decay, disuse, etc.; revival.
This column has previously described the remarkable cloud of life hovering around the magnificent Southern Live Oak. The tree hosts a wondrous variety of other species: birds and insects that rest or restlessly hunt among its branches, creatures that take up residence in its nooks, crannies and knot holes, plants that prefer to grow only in its shade or hang from its branches like Spanish moss or climb its trunk like many kinds of vines do or intimately cling to its bark like mosses, lichens and the mysterious Resurrection Fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides).
Imagine a life spent mostly dead. The fern actually stays shriveled up, curled up and brown most of the time. Only after there has been enough rain does the plant respond by uncurling and bursting back to life, all bushy, lush and green again. High humidity sustains it awhile longer. It then dries, loosing up to 97% of its moisture content (most plants die after losing about 10%). Its estimated it could remain that way for a century and still revive but it rains too much around here for us to ever find out.
The fern decorates only the upper surfaces of the tree’s knarly bark, expecting rain and sunlight from the sky above. And it hosts its own ecology too. It accumulates a kind of soil at its feet, made from its own shedding fronds, its roots, mosses and other residue from the other life on the tree. In fact, it takes many years for the bark to accumulate enough of this “dirt” to get a crop of ferns started. No doubt within this mix is a whole assemblage of critters and other organisms that depend on this mini-environment. It all clings tenaciously in a precarious position high above the ground.
Occasionally, a fallen limb carries a chunk of this little world with it. I’ve had one of these sitting in the shade behind my house for quite some time. The whole aggregation holds together, dies and revives over and over gain, just as expected, just like it’s intended.
Resurrection ferns doing their thing on the rain side of some Live Oak branches.