Ferns communicate to determine their sexes

Alice Chats Science

Scientists in Japan have discovered that ferns later in development release chemicals in the soil which determines the sex of younger ferns, which maintains a sex ratio in the population that favours cross-fertilisation.

JapaneseClimbingFernScience Japanese climbing fern. 

Ferns have a very different reproductive system to the plants that we are used to. A lot of the plants in our gardens are flowering plants: they often have male and female parts in the same flower and reproduce using seeds. Ferns reproduce using spores, not seeds. Ferns have male and female individuals a bit like humans; however in ferns, the community decides on the sex of plants, instead of their genetics.

Mature fern plants can be male, female or hermaphrodite. If there are no mature ferns around then an individual will become a hermaphrodite, and then self-fertilise to produce spores which grow into fern plants. Self-fertilisation in the plant world is not ideal…

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