Yard Oddities in Old Northeast: Ferns & Touch-Me-Nots

Strolling around the Old Northeast, you’ll see a wide variety of ferns. But some ferns might surprise you from one day to the next – or even one moment to the next. One is the pleopeltis polypodioides or “resurrection fern.” The other, mimosa pudica, looks like a fern, but is actually a perennial weed. Both exhibit strange behaviors. 

The resurrection fern is unique for a number of reasons. First, it’s an epiphyte, or air plant, which means it grows not in the soil, but on the sides of trees and houses. It gets its name because during dry periods, this plant will wilt and turn brown, losing up to 97% of its water. It will appear dead, but it isn’t. Just 24 hours after a good rain, the resurrection fern is bright green and looking quite alive. 

These plants are all over the neighborhood. If you’ve got an old oak tree, there’s a pretty good chance you have some resurrection fern. But if you just can find any, wander over to the north side of 17th Avenue between Locust and Cherry. A low oak branch that will almost make you duck has a nice patch of resurrection fern.

This resurrection fern is in its dry stage – but it’s still alive!

The mimosa pudica might be a little more elusive. This plant has a variety of interesting nicknames. Here in the south, it’s called the “touch me not.” But other regions might call it the “sleep plant” or the “shame plant.” Pudica is Latin for shy or bashful. It gets these names because their delicate fine leaves will fold up right before your eyes when they’re disturbed. Scientists believe this is a defense mechanism from animals and insects that try to eat it. 

The mimosa pudica is found in yards as ground cover, but will also grow in planters. It is easiest to find when its purple flower is in bloom. There’s a good example in the right of way near the alley on the east side of Oak Street, between 17th And 18th avenues. Just give them a gentle brush with your fingers and they’ll gently fold inward. 

Got a funky tree or plant you want to see in the Northeast Journal. Reach out to jkilewrites@gmail.com.