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Postcards from Rangitoto, Part 2


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When we left the volcano Rangitoto two posts ago, I promised more Down Under fern excitement. For the six of you still here, here we go!

Toward the beginning of my hike I saw signs pointing to a kidney fern glen or gully. That sounded *extremely* promising, though I’d never heard of a kidney fern before in my life. But come on . . . a kidney fern? What’s that all about? Bet it’s awesome. I didn’t have time to visit the glen, but it wasn’t too long before I spied my quarry on the main trail.

Here’s why they’re called kidney ferns. Note that like the filmy ferns, these guys are translucent, which implies they may be only one or a few cell layers thick:

Wow! Would you have guessed these were ferns? I was curious where these ferns might make their sori, or spore-forming structures, and kept my eyes peeled for a lucky break. I was in for a treat. These are the first ferns I’ve seen that make them in a corona or crown around the edge:

A closeup:

At 1 o’clock and 11 o’clock you can see where a few have popped open and the little red-brown sporangia (remember the Roman-helmet things from the last post?) themselves are sticking out.

Rangitoto had yet another wonderful surprise lying in wait:

Tree ferns!

The first I’d ever seen. Yes, Earth still retains some remnant of the feel of the age of dinosaurs in the form of tree ferns, the first of which evolved long ago in the Paleozoic. I don’t know how similar modern tree ferns are to their ancient kin in form and shape, but they make me feel as if I’m in another place and another time all the same.

Here is a beautiful coiled up tree fern frond, or crozier. It’s a new leaf getting ready to unfurl, and it’s beautiful.

The same name is given to the crook of a bishop’s staff that has an identical appearance. In the spring, you can also buy fiddlehead fern (named again for their appearance) croziers at the grocery store in the U.S. for your culinary pleasure.

On a tree fern, croziers can travel a long way before they’re finished uncoiling.

Ferns can also have some very surprising appearances. Here’s a very primitive-looking (but not necessarily less-advanced) fern I also found on Rangitoto. It just looks like a simple leaf (look at the three simple leaves in the middle of the photo, sprouting from the right).

And the leaf conceals a beautiful surprise:

The sori are scattered about the bottom in a delightfully Cro-Magnon-looking style.

Here’s another fern I was curious to flip:

And here’s what it looks like on the reverse:

Its sori are all in beautiful diagonal rows.

Finally, there was this oddity, certainly not a fern. Whether a moss or a lycopod, another kind of early-evolving plant that once upon a time sprouted huge forests, I am not sure. Suggestions welcome.

Once I reached the top of the island, we had a beautiful view back down toward Auckland.

Here’s a closeup:

I’m told people bungee jump off that needly-looking thing.

On the way down, I couldn’t help but notice this:

Forgive me, Kiwis. It made this stupid American smile.

Jennifer Frazer About the Author: Jennifer Frazer is a AAAS Science Journalism Award-winning science writer. She has degrees in biology, plant pathology/mycology, and science writing, and has spent many happy hours studying life in situ.
Nature Blog Network
Follow on Twitter @JenniferFrazer.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. CristyGelling 9:03 pm 05/11/2012

    I’m dredging this up from deep memory, but my first thought was that your possible lycopod might be an introduced Selaginella. If so, then it’s an invasive weed. But pretty.

    Link to this
  2. 2. kdimoff 11:51 pm 05/11/2012

    gorgeous! what diversity! to me, those kidney ferns look like the gametophytes of the Onoclea sensibilis that somehow figured out how to just get the sori to grow on themselves instead of going through the rest of the work of growing :)

    Link to this
  3. 3. Jennifer Frazer in reply to Jennifer Frazer 7:50 pm 05/12/2012

    I can see that!

    Link to this
  4. 4. Geopelia 1:02 am 05/16/2012

    Yes, people do bungee jump off the Skytower. There is a Casino nearby, too.
    Something looks like creeping asparagus in some pictures. Surely not! That spreads everywhere.
    If you want something really prehistoric, go to the Zoo and see the Tuatara, an ancient reptile from the age of the dinosaurs, the last Rhynchocephalian left. All the rest of the order are long extinct.

    Link to this

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