Governor Laffan’s Fern makes a comeback
An endangered plant last seen growing in the wild more than a century ago has taken the first step on a comeback from the brink of extinction.
A total of four Governor Laffan’s Ferns planted in the Bermuda Audubon Society’s nature reserve at Sears Cave in Smith’s Parish have produced spores, which germinate in wet habitats.
Alison Copeland, the biodiversity officer at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said in the society’s summer newsletter: “This was a critical discovery for the fern’s recovery because we have not had any reproductively mature Governor Laffan’s Ferns in Bermuda since the potted ferns at Tulo Valley nursery died around 13 years ago.
“More importantly, since Governor Laffan’s Fern was last seen growing in the wild in 1905 these spores are likely the first produced in the wild in Bermuda in 115 years.”
She added: “Sears Cave could soon contain the first wild generation of Governor Laffan’s Ferns produced in over a century.”
Ms Copeland said yesterday that the ferns would no longer be considered “extinct in the wild” once two generations of juvenile ferns had been produced.
She added: “We want to see the ones planted create viable offspring and the only way to know if offspring are viable is if we see the second generation. That is essentially the grandchildren.”
Ms Copeland said in the newsletter that little was known about the reproductive behaviour of the species as it had been raised in artificial light and temperature conditions in an American laboratory since 2003.
She added: “Also, we know almost nothing about its behaviour in the wild.
“Monitoring the sporing ferns should tell us how long the reproductive period is this year and how long the spores persist on the ferns. It will likely be several years before we can detect if any juveniles have been produced in Sear’s Cave. The possibilities are very exciting.”
Ms Copeland said she and Jeremy Madeiros, the Government’s chief conservation officer, planted 12 of the Governor Laffan’s Ferns, along with two rare endemic Bermuda Shield Ferns, in Sears Cave in January 2019.
Three more Governor Laffan’s Ferns, and two more Bermuda Shield Ferns, were added in February.
Ms Copeland said “at least one” of the Bermuda Shield Ferns already had spores on it when it was planted in February, and a second one was now sporing.
She said that will “hopefully result in young ferns appearing in the future”.
Ms Copeland added: “The introduction of the Bermuda Shield Fern to Sear’s Cave is significant because it was the first time this endemic fern had been introduced to a site outside of the Walsingham cave district.”
David Wingate, formerly the Government’s chief conservation officer, said in the newsletter that Sears Cave was first mentioned as a sanctuary for rare native ferns in NL Britton’s book, Flora of Bermuda 1918.
Sears Cave was gifted to the Audubon Society in 1990 in memory of Sir Howard and Lady Trott.
Sears Cave Nature Reserve opened in 1992 after a restoration process.
Mr Wingate added that later work involved restoration of the area around the cave to native woodland, which let more light reach the Sears Cave sink.
Mr Wingate said: “Only within the last two years have we been able to focus our attention more specifically on the reintroduction of those rarer native ferns which had died out there.
“The extraordinary achievement of bringing back Governor Laffan’s Fern from the edge of extinction represents the culmination of a long history of conservation awareness and restoration effort, mostly by this Society.”
The Governor Laffan’s Fern is named after Sir Robert Laffan, governor from 1877 until his death in 1882.
It was discovered in the Walsingham area of Hamilton Parish in 1880.
Although not seen in the wild since 1905, the species survived through potted plants.
Several specimens were at the Botanical Gardens until 2001, when they were moved under glass at Government’s Tulo Valley Nursery in Pembroke.
But 2003’s Hurricane Fabian destroyed the greenhouse and two of the ferns.
A recovery effort was launched later that year with Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska.
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