The second week of the Florida Master Gardener class includes our first scheduled “field trip”; instead of meeting at the extension office, we met at Fern Forest Nature Center. There were three lectures today: 1) Plant Structure & Function, 2) Ferns and Allies, 3) Seed Plants.

Fern Forest Nature Center

This giant leather fern, at Fern Forest Nature Center, is an example of a spore-bearing plant. / Photos by Amanda Gorney

We learned that the plant body consists of roots, stem (shoots), leaves and reproductive structures. Reproductive structures can further be broken down into spore-bearing and seed-bearing plants. Ferns and their relatives would be an example of spore-bearing plants, meaning they reproduce by their spores dispersing either by water or wind.

It takes a wind gust of just 1 mph for a spore to lift and separate; therefore, ferns have an adaptive edge in any environment. They are often used as the go-to plant for ground covers in landscapes on properties that have little to no sun penetration due to large tree canopies.

Seed plants generally have a more complex plant body; disperse seeds, rather than spores, for reproduction; and have pollen and ovules. “Angiosperm” is the scientific name for a flowering plant; the term refers to the seeds being borne in capsules or fruits. Nonflowering plants are called “gymnosperms”; examples are cycads, firs, ginkgoes, junipers, larches, pines and spruces.

This Peruvian water primrose is an example of a seed-bearing plant. It is not native to Florida.

Master gardeners must absorb lots of information

The day’s lectures were at times overwhelming. I realized that the saying “If you don’t use it, you lose it” is the cold hard truth in my case, so I feel like a have a lot of re-learning and catch-up work to do!

After our on-site visit and in-class lectures, we were off to explore the Fern Forest Nature Center to get our first in-the-field learning experience. If you recall, our first week included a lecture, Plant Identification, where we learned that we can identify a plant based on observable characteristics. We learned how important it is to obtain a proper sample size in order to successfully identify a plant, no matter how large or small.

Walking around Fern Forest was a great way to apply this point and to help the building blocks stack properly. It was a lot to take in, but I have noticed that I am starting to look at plants differently. I seem to notice more about them than before, and I’m surprising myself at how much I’ve learned. It’s awesome!

5 Fun Facts from our visit to Fern Forest Nature Center

  • Ferns have been around for well over 300 million years, so it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to assume they were a popular veggie dinosaur food.
  • There are native and non-native versions of the Boston fern. The presence of tubers — i.e., round balls — on the roots is a good visual identifier of the invasive version. Just remember, if there are tubers, stay away!
  • Buttress roots are roots whose upper parts are exposed and thus above-ground. These roots are used for support by the plant.
  • Perfect vs. imperfect flowers: A perfect flower contains both stamen (male) and pistil (female) reproductive structures, whereas an imperfect flower contains only a stamen or only a pistil.
  • Poison ivy and other similar native plants can easily be found in and throughout our Florida parks.  If you’re unsure of a plant — don’t touch! Better safe than sorry.