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Plantwatch: staghorn ferns – the plants that form colonies like bees Science



Staghorn ferns are spectacular plants with leaves that look like antlers and make very attractive houseplants. A particular species, Platycerium bifurcatumgrows on Lord Howe Island in Australia and lives in colonies of hundreds of individuals.

A recent study showed that these plants cooperate with each other, rather as a colony of ants or bees. The ferns in a colony come in different sizes, shapes and structures, but fit together like puzzle pieces and work together to store water and nutrients for the entire colony ̵

1; especially important because the plants grow high on trees without soil or much water.

Ferns with long green bands deflect rainwater to the center of the colony, where plants with brown spongy bands absorb moisture and nutrients, and then pass this on to all colony members using a network of roots. This level of cooperation has never been seen before in plants and is remarkable as the cooperation seen in colonies of social insects such as ants or bees. And just as the distribution of fertility among these creatures reproduces approx. 40% of staghorn ferns do not – mostly those with brown frogs – and DNA analysis also revealed that most colonies are made up of genetically identical individuals.


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