Simply Green- Florida Ferns

There are over one hundred species of ferns that grow throughout Florida’s sandhill and wetland habitats. Ferns are a great photographic subject because they have this prehistoric ambiance about them. Just imagine if you were following a path along the edges of the swamp, and you are startled by the sudden sounds of crunching.  There, there in the distance is a Parasaurolophus foraging on ferns. 

I would love to research and photograph all of them. But for now, let’s explore a few of the common ones we see. Further in this article, I will share some photography tips with you, but first, let’s learn about ferns…the only plant that I can actually grow!

What is a fern? 

A fern is a member of a group of vascular plants that reproduce via spores and do not produce seeds nor flowers. 

  • Vascular plants are land plants that have lignified tissues for conducting water and minerals throughout the plant 
  • Lignified tissues are a class of complex organic polymers
  • Polymers  are molecules that make up many of the materials in living organisms


As we explore the forest looking for ferns, we will see that ferns can take many shapes and sizes. There may be a few that look quite similar but an entirely different species. How to tell them apart from species to species is challenging. To help you with that, here’s a link to view a great selection of Florida ferns: Observations · iNaturalist

  • Fronds
    • Apex (the tip of the frond)
    • Midrib (main axis of the blade
    • Blade and Petiole (leaf stalk)
  • Pinnae (blade divided into segments)
    • Pinna (single leaflets)
    • Pinnules (smaller segments of the pinna)
  • Fiddleheads
    • New emerging fronds (the stage that is super cool to photograph)

On the back of fertile fronds is where you will find the spores. The pinnules have sporangia (an enclosure in which spores are formed). Sori are groups of sporangia that contain the spores. Young sori have a protective tissue called indusia.

Want to see something really cool? Watch this YouTube video from David Fairchild of sporangia. That would be an exciting project I would love to attempt!

Cinnamon, Pine and Royal ferns are called dimorphic ferns. These ferns have two types of fronds; fertile fronds and sterile fronds. 

This was a huge learning curve for me, the three weeks of exploring and learning about ferns were indeed challenging, but I can confidently identify a few different species of ferns other than the common sword fern we have growing in our patio. 

We all learn differently, and for those of us that really just want to ‘know’ without all the specifics, learning the basics is enough to feel a greater connection with nature. 

Species of Ferns

Resurrection Fern– These are everywhere, and most likely the first fern you will see, learn and be able to recognize while either on your hike or nature walk, heck they can even be in your backyard. 

These ferns are epiphyte, meaning it derives its nutrients from the air. They have a unique way of coming back to life. When there is little to no moisture, the fern will appear shriveled and brown, looking dead, but it will come back to life with a bit of water. 

Shoestring Fern– My first Shoestring fern observation was at Chassahowitzka WMA. This fern gracefully places itself to grow between the boots of a Cabbage Palmetto. This fern is another epiphyte; like the Resurrection fern, it does not take nutrients from where it takes root. 

Royal, Pine & Cinnamon Fern– These ferns are dimorphic ferns, meaning they have sterile fronds and fertile fronds. The spore-bearing fronds are those tall stalks rising from the center of the plant. These spore-bearing fronds can appear to be a mixture of brown or green. If part of the frond is brown, the spores have been released. These are the ferns that have those cool fiddleheads.

Golden Polypody– Another Epiphytic fern is the Golden Polypody, just like the Shoestring fern, this fern is also adapted to growing specifically on Cabbage Palmettos. 

Golden and Giant Leather Fern– A distinguishing characteristic between the Giant Leather fern and the Golden Leather fern is the spores’ location on the fronds. The fertile leaflets of the Giant Leather fern typically occur along the frond’s entire length, whereas those of the Golden Leather fern occur only toward the apex.

Below are a few photos showcasing a few species of ferns. I do hope this gallery will spark a little imagination to get you outdoors and photograph these incredible ferns.

There are so many other species within the fern family, like I mentioned before, that have various features, some you wouldn’t considered to be a fern, but they are in the same family. An example would be the Skeleton Fork Fern and Water Spangles. Learning even a few of the ferns is not only diving into a creative photography adventure but you are learning more about nature, Florida’s nature.

Photographic – It’s all about composition

Landscape to Macro

Ferns – Landscape

Honestly, I think the best opportunity to photograph bracken ferns for those scenic landscape shots is a couple of weeks after a prescribed burn. The variety of colors captured in your photo can give the viewer a deeper understanding of nature being rejuvenated.

Another photographic idea for a fern landscape is saltmarshes. The ever so immaculate assemblage of Leather ferns graces the estuaries’ edges and is undoubtedly a truly incredible sight to see. 

Start by framing your shot from the bottom up. Your focus is designated where the water or mud, depending on the tide, meets the ferns. You can show various fern heights and their sporangia. The color of sporangia (rust or dark brown) can break that muted coloration within the foreground.

While your frame encompasses Leather fern, that shot merges within hundreds of Black Needle rush and in the distance clusters of tall Sabal palms. I feel this style of composition can comfortably move the viewer from the foreground to the background.

It’s kind of like layers 

4: Blue Sky

3: Sabal Palms

2: Black Needle Rush

1: Leather Ferns

You also have the best photographic opportunity to explore and take your photography into a different element by making your imagination come to life and have fun doing it. Remember when I mentioned ferns having this prehistoric ambiance? 

Don’t mind those walking or riding their bike wondering what you are doing or why you are photographing a toy dinosaur in the swamp. Grasp your inner child and create your prehistoric scene! 

Spinosaurus awaits for a herbivore!

That’s precisely what I did! While taking photos of my dinosaur, three people on bikes stopped and asked me what I was doing. When I explained to them my reason for the dinosaur, they chuckled. As they got back to their pedaling, I overheard one gentleman say, “Can you imagine what the world would be like if dinosaurs still existed?”

If you take your toy dino out for a photography shoot, please share your photos on the Facebook Page; I would love to see them! Florida Parks & Nature Magazine | Facebook

Ferns – Macro

Using your macro lens is where it gets super fun and super creative!

The most interesting and creative composition in fern photography is photographing fiddleheads. Not only are you shooting a fascinating stage of a fern’s life, but you are also sharing nature at its finest inspiration. 

Don’t limit yourself to explore photographing ferns in different ways, settings, and composition. Just like a fiddlehead, emerge from the ground and spread your leaflets. 

Please note: Be mindful of where you are photographing ferns; lots of reptiles (snakes) and amphibians are in these types of habitats where fern grow. They can be hidden and camouflage themselves quite nicely.

Please look around and watch your step, I may be hiding underneath all the leaf litter!

Have fun and be safe in your travels!

2 replies

  1. If I keep reading your posts, I may learn something new. My wife assures me I am already a “know-it-all”!

    This is a wonderful appetizer on learning about ferns. The photography tips are much appreciated.


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