• Photo of the steep natural entrance of Carlsbad Caverns

    Carlsbad Caverns

    National Park New Mexico

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  • Cave Lighting Project

    We are undergoing a year-long lighting project in the cavern. Please be aware of caution tape along pathways inside the cave and use due care.

  • Scenic Loop Road Closed

    The 9-mile scenic Loop Road (Desert Drive) is closed due to weather damage. The road will reopen as soon as repairs are done. This scenic road does not affect road access to the visitor center or the cave.

Ferns

Several kinds of ferns (and mosses) inhabit Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Several kinds of ferns (and mosses) inhabit Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
NPS Photo by Kristin Dorman-Johnson
 

Ordinarily, people don't think of ferns when they think of deserts. Of course, most ferns are distributed in wet habitats, especially in warm regions. Our area also has quite a few although they look shriveled and dead much of the time, but that's just one of their adaptations to desert conditions. They use water-saving desert adaptations, such as small fronds (leaves) with shading hairs, scales, or waxy coverings to hold in water. When it rains, the dead-looking dry fronds turn green in a few hours and begin the process of photosynthesis.

The plants referred to as "ferns and fern allies" are plants that have vascular tissue (xylem and phloem for conducting water and sugars), but do not produce fruits and seeds. They mostly reproduce by spores or vegetative (non-sexual) reproduction. Ferns are very ancient plants that date back more than 300 million years. Their ancestors date back to the Carboniferous period when coal deposits were forming.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park has 13 known species of ferns, including Maidenhair Fern, Cloak Fern, Lipfern, Cliffbrake, and Spleenwort. The park's fern allies include one horsetail (also called a scouring rush) and four species of spikemosses, some of which are called "resurrection ferns."

See the park's plant list for all the names.

Did You Know?

Soda straws in Carlsbad Cavern.

Most of the formations—or speleothems—found inside Carlsbad Cavern today were active and growing during the last ice age when instead of having a desert above the cave, there were pine forests.