A Fern by any other Name

This week's Nature Note is really a PS (Post Script) to last week’s post about living with cockroaches and centipedes. You may be thinking, “Oh no. What creature now?” and you would be excused for thinking that, but this week’s note is about a fern. (Fern- even the name is much more pleasant than centipede, yes?) There are several types of ferns that grow in the wild in Hawai’I, but the one we are concerned about today is a non-native but naturalized fern that in Hawai’i goes by the name Laua‘e. Worldwide it goes by many names: Maile-scented Fern, Monarch Fern, and Wart Fern. Native to Oceana, and Tropical Asia it is now found in many tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. It is a sturdy fern that can grow to three feet tall and is an excellent ground cover. It grows readily on rock walls and even trees!

(Apropos of nothing but an interesting side note nonetheless is the fact that this fern produces “ecdysteroids”, a type of steroid usually produced and used by insects in their molting process! It has been used in traditional medicinal practices in the South Pacific Islands to build muscle mass in humans. Weird!)

This plant gets its common name Maile-scented Fern from the fact that many of its stands produce a wonderful vanilla-like fragrance reminiscent of the Hawaiian Maile flower and is used in ceremonial leis and to produce scented traditional tapa cloth. The name Monarch Fern comes from its use in crowns for royalty in Polynesia. The unfairly applied name Wart Fern is because, like all ferns, this one reproduces by spores that are produced in small brown sacks called ‘sori’ on the underside of the leaf. These show up on the opposite side of the leaf as wart-like structures. Another charming name for these sori is ‘fruitdots’!

So why refer this lovely fern back to the article on roaches and centipedes? A scientific name for this fern is Microsori scolopendria which translates roughly to “Centipede with small fruitdots.”

That cracks me up!

And there you have it! Until next time! A hui hou!

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