The bright green fronds you see peeking out of the forest floor at Muir Woods are most likely ferns. 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. Muir Woods is host to 13 species of ferns from six different fern families. Other seedless vascular plants include horsetails and club mosses.
The reason that ferns do not produce seeds like most of the plants we know is that they are actually much older. Their reproductive strategy of producing spores instead of fruits has served them just fine since before the time of the dinosaurs! Ferns have been around for more than 300 million years, and have a worldwide distribution on all continents except Antarctica and most islands. Here at Muir Woods watch for lady, sword, maiden hair, and gold back ferns to name a few. These ancient plants have something to tell us about permanence and adaptations that perhaps even the old growth redwood trees cannot.