Jan 18th, 2019

HPU biology students publish paper on native fern

If you have ever hiked in the forests of the southeast during winter, you have probably noticed Christmas fern, Polystichum acristochoides. The native evergreen fern exhibits a peculiar behavior– during winter, it lays its fronds flat against the ground.  “Flat as a pancake”, adds Dr. Niky Hughes, associate professor of biology at HPU, “and we wanted to know why”.

By comparing microclimate and photosynthetic gas exchange of naturally-flattened fronds to experimental fronds that had been propped upright, Hughes and students Elizabeth Parker (class of 2017) and Sarah Forget (class of 2018) demonstrated that flattening is beneficial for maintaining a warm, humid microclimate around leaves during a season that is otherwise cold and dry.  Their results were published in 2018 in the journal Environmental and Experimental Botany.

Elizabeth Parker is now teaching AP Environmental Science in Raleigh, NC. Sarah Forget is working on a PhD in Plant Biology at the University of Georgia.