Spore Stories: Fairchild’s Rare Fern Conservation Program

Jennifer Possley, Conservation Program Manager, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

South Florida leads the continental US in native fern diversity, with about 60 taxa. Despite this distinction, the region’s ferns have been under-documented and largely ignored by botanists, managers, and regulators. Some of the barriers toward documenting, studying and conserving ferns include difficulties in identification and propagation as well as the fact that fern spores cannot be stored by conventional means. Over the past two decades, Fairchild has built a low-tech yet effective program to conserve rare ferns of South Florida and Puerto Rico. Field surveys and expert interviews were critical early steps, to determine the location and status of these sometimes-cryptic plants. Over time, repeated monitoring has informed population trends. Propagation from spore was first undertaken by experts at CREW (The Lindner Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife at the Cincinnati Zoo), then transitioned to be primarily in-house. To date, we have reintroduced 6 taxa to 5 Miami preserves, with more introductions planned in Florida and Puerto Rico. Ten of Fairchild’s 70 CPC species are ferns, and CPC is sponsoring Fairchild’s first fern spore collection this year; spores will be cryogenically stored at NLGRP. This short presentation, which will feature abundant fern photos, will review the inner workings of this successful program, with a focus on methodology and lessons learned which might help others wishing to start or improve upon a similar program.