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The Fern Collection

Ferns are a group of plants that represent a large division of terrestrial flora called Pteridophyta, with a very ancient phylogenetic lineage. There are about 13,000 species, 35 families, and 568 genera.

The Fern Collection

Ferns and their dependence on environmental humidity

These plants can be found in very specific habitats. Those that grow on the soil are terrestrial, others, which develop in rocks, are called lithophytes or rupicolas, and those in trees are epiphytes.

The water dependence of ferns limits their geographical distribution to wet tropical zones. With these ideal conditions for its development, it is also where we find the greatest diversity of species.


Although some species can survive in conditions of extreme dryness, such as desert areas, reproduction only happens when there is environmental humidity.

Unparalleled leaves, that have no seed, flower, or fruit

They are usually recognized for their leaves, called fronds, which can be simple or pinnate, light, dark, or bluish green, and may be variegated. The young fronds often have shades of pink and red.


They are vascular plants without a seed, devoid of flowers and fruits

Unparalleled leaves, that have no seed, flower, or fruit

Nostalgic character, with a romantic flair

Symbol of humility in Christian iconography, and omnipresent in romantic landscapes, ferns develop in discreet and dark environments, reinforcing their nostalgic character.

In the nineteenth century, in Europe and the United Kingdom, collecting these plants was popular, as they were used to beautify interiors, pressed and organized in albums, or as a decorative element of porcelain, glass, and metal pieces.

Nostalgic character, with a romantic flair

The Fern Collection in numbers

  • Families



  • Genera



  • Species



  • Subspecies



  • Varieties



  • Cultivars



The Valley of Ferns next to the Garden's small river

The Valley of Ferns, located in the surrounding area of ​​the Yellow Stream at the end of the serpentine canal, is one of the iconic corners of Parque Terra Nostra. It features magnificent specimens of Cyathea and Dicksonia ferns that evoke exotic ecosystems. 

This collection was started by the head gardener in 1995 and delights visitors throughout the year, at its peak between April and October. Most species in the Fern Collection are exotic, but there are also endemic species such as Polypodium azoricum and Dryopteris azorica.

The diversity of ferns in the Garden and in Azorean flora

Within the Pteridophytes, Azorean flora has about 39 native and 7 endemic ferns. Some are relics from the Tertiary, very rare on the European continent, and easily observed in the Azores archipelago, such as the Trichomanes and Hymenophyllum genera.
  • Did you know...

    That Ferns are hugely resilient?

    During the Carboniferous and Permian geological periods, between about 359 and 252 Myr, ferns lived days of prosperity that lasted until the beginning of the Triassic, 252 Mya, when the most significant extinction in history caused by global warming occurred. Still, ferns survived and continued to proliferate amid new difficulties, such as the need to compete with other emerging plants, the cycads and the conifers. These plant groups dominated the Earth's flora until the end of the Cretaceous, between about 145 and 66 Myr, when there is a new mass extinction, perhaps the best known because it caused the dinosaurs to go extinct, but once again, ferns found a way to resist and adapt to new conditions. Even today, they remain one of Earth's largest groups of plants.


    That Ferns are living fossils?

    The remarkable resemblance between fossilized ferns from millions of years ago and modern ferns is undeniable. Fossils of the now-extinct Psaronius fern genus, which thrived during the late Carboniferous period (359-299 million years ago), show how similar today's tree ferns, like Cyathea medullaris and Dicksonia antarctica, are to their ancient ancestors. Similarly, fossil records from the Carboniferous period include ferns from the current Osmundaceae family, including species like Osmunda regalis, native to the Azores.

    That water is essential for the reproduction of ferns?

    Water plays a crucial role in the reproductive cycle of ferns. The fertilization process relies solely on water to transport anterozoids to the egg for fertilization. In contrast, flowering plants and conifers have evolved structures like flowers and cones, allowing wind or insects to aid their reproductive cycle. This distinction highlights why most ferns are found in the tropics, thriving in damp and shaded environments where consistent water availability exists year-round.

    That Ferns have several uses?

    For commercial purposes, the Adiantum capillus-veneris (Southern maidenhair fern) was used in the production of capilé, a popular Portuguese syrup in the eighteenth century, and in the Azores Islands, and the Culcita macrocarpa species (woolly tree fern) was used to fill mattresses.

    The Matteucia struthiopteris fern is an ornamental species often found in gardens, classified with the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society. In addition to its ornamental value, its tender shoots, in the rural areas of the Northeastern United States and in Japan, are considered a culinary delicacy in rural parts of the Northeastern United States and Japan, offering a flavor and texture reminiscent of asparagus. 

On the map of Parque Terra Nostra

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