Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Resurrection Fern on tree along Jump Off
Mountain Rd., Sewanee, TN
In the spring before Easter resurrection, the old live oaks in New Iberia, Louisiana begin to show large clumps of fronds unfurling that become green and show signs of new life – the resurrection fern, an epiphyte fern that clings to its host tree branches, comes to life, and to me, it is symbolic of the resurrection of Christ. During dry, winter periods this epiphyte fern becomes a grayish brown and looks as if it has shriveled up and died. However, the plant can lose up to 97 percent of its water content and stay alive. A few rain showers lately have caused the fern to unfurl and transform into the bright green that forms on our old oaks. Some plant experts say that the fern can stay in a dried-out state for 100 years. 
In 2014 when I was writing Between Plants and People, a volume of poetry about the interrelationships between people and the plants around us, I asked Dr. Victoria I. Sullivan, a botanist, to take photographs of the plants I wrote about for the book. At the time, I was spending my half year on The Mountain in Sewanee, Tennessee, and Sewanee was experiencing a gracious plenty of dry weather. When I decided to include a poem about resurrection fern, we searched every habitat on The Mountain and couldn’t find a “model” for the poem. We finally decided to drive some distance to Savannah, Georgia to find this fern that reproduces by spores, not seeds. We knew that Savannah has a plethora of old oaks — also, we were often known for suddenly deciding to embark on a trip just to recover a detail for our writings, or to satisfy a yen for peaches or apples… we were called to live up to our rep for uncovering serendipity on such trips. 
Resurrection Fern on Live Oak, Savannah, GA
We walked through the streets of Savannah and finally found a dried up specimen on a venerable oak in the parking lot of a legal firm where we were chased out by a guard but not before we had taken a few quick snapshots. We then drove back to Sewanee. The trip clocked out as a twelve-hour round trip, and when we had recovered, we were told that a patch of the fern grew on a tree not more than five miles away from Sewanee! It was bright with green life, and the intrepid botanist took a photo. Both the green specimen of the fern at Sewanee and the un-resurrected fern in Savannah appear on a page of Between Plants and People
Resurrection fern doesn’t steal water or nutrients from the old oaks and cypress on which it most often appears, and it has the distinction of having been taken into outer space aboard the Discovery space shuttle so that space travelers aboard could observe this plant at zero gravity. The fern was able to effect resurrection even without gravity and was named the “first fern in space.” 
The resurrection fern is an amazing plant, and when spring rains begin to fall, or at Eastertide, you might want to look upward at topmost tree branches of our ancient oaks to witness an awe-inspiring resurrection. This member of the plant world has withstood many droughts and seeming-deaths but remains alive and healthy. I’d say there’s a message therein! 
Photography by Dr. Victoria I. Sullivan

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