Myriopteris lindheimeri, Astrolepis sinuatus, Notholaena standleyi, Pellaea truncata
- Photo: Deborah Bird, Brian Gersten
There are 13 species of ferns observed and documented in Lower Sabino Canyon.
Ferns in the Desert???!!!
Usually the statement “Ferns in the Desert” is followed by a question mark along with an exclamation point. Most people think of the desert as being a hot, dry and barren place which is totally inhospitable to the likes of ferns, mosses and leafy plants. Nonetheless, all the above-mentioned species thrive here in the Sonoran Desert. There are many varieties of ferns growing in the desert climes. The desert ferns are true xerophytes (plant that has adaptations to survive in an environment with little liquid water, dry loving). These ferns have evolved several strategies to thrive in our warm, dry climate here in the southwest. They can shrivel and go dormant for many months, they begin life in rock fractures and other moist sheltered areas that provide a microclimate for early growth. Other characteristics of desert ferns are: reduced surface area (small leaflets), leathery leaflets, thickened leaf margins, waxy, hairy or fuzzy coatings, and scales on stems. Does this sound like some of the water saving adaptations of other desert plants? You bet! We’ve heard about these adaptations for many other desert plants such as creosote, mesquite, ocotillo, Brittle Bush, so why not the ferns too?
We have 13 species of ferns observed and documented in Lower Sabino Canyon. As we’ve had such nice rain and a little snow recently, it’s a good time to go out looking for them. You’ll find them alongside the tram road as well as near rocks alongside trails. One of my favorite places to observe ferns is along the Bluff Trail. The north facing slope, runoff, rocks and vegetation provide a hospitable place for the ferns to flourish. There are 4 common species that can be seen easily along the trail on the cliff side. Often, they are all growing together. Look for Fairy Swords * (Myriopteris lindheimeri), Wavy Cloak Fern (Astrolepis sinuatus), Star Cloak Fern (Notholaena standleyi) , and Spiny Cliffbrake (Pellaea truncata). You can also check the herbarium plates in the visitor’s center. Fern plates will be in the green section and there are composites of several ferns on three plates.