The most common plant in the redwood forest is probably a fern: the Western sword fern. And this prehistoric plant, which is found in every redwood forest, is telling us a story about how the forests are responding to changes in climate.
In a recent article in Wild Hope magazine, “Seeing the Forest for the Ferns,” Save the Redwoods League Director of Science Emily Burns describes her study of sword ferns over the past few years through the League’s Fern Watch project.
We have observed that recently sword fern plants have fewer and smaller fronds than have been recorded in the past. This is most likely due to the reduced rainfall we have experienced from the drought. As precipitation increases, we hope the ferns will respond positively — but we don’t know yet. What happens to the redwood forest ferns is important not only for the ferns’ sake, but because it is an early indicator of what may impact the redwoods themselves.
For this reason, we need to continue to study the ferns and we need your help doing it. Please join us to track changes in sword ferns throughout their range by joining our Fern Watch project through the free iNaturalist App. You can find step-by-step instructions on how to help us in our new Fern Watch Guide and on our website.
We can’t possibly have eyes on every redwood forest so we need all you nature-lovers out there to become fern nerds with us and help us paint a picture of what is going on in the forest throughout its 450 mile range. Thank you!