Xerophytic (drought-adapted) ferns are displayed along the side of the Arid House, in Beds125A–127B, and in several biogeographic collections. These ferns are from arid regions of California, deserts of the Americas, and from southern Africa. Represented genera include Cheilanthes, Pellaea, Aspidotis, Astrolepis, Notholaena, and Myriopteris.
Xerophytic ferns live and thrive in very dry conditions. Unlike many desert plants, such as cacti and agaves, these plants do not have succulent, water-retaining leaves, roots, or stems; neither do they have sharp thorns or spines. They have adapted to the prolonged dry spells frequent in their native habitats in unique ways. Some species have waxy coatings on their leaves that reduce water loss. Others have silvery scales, which protect leaf tissue and deflect harsh sunlight. Some plants go dormant during periods of prolonged drought and respond rapidly to limited seasonal waterfall.
During dry weather, you may notice that several of these ferns, such as species of Cheilanthes and Pellaea, appear to be dead. These plants dry out and go dormant until heavy rain enables them to function again. Such plants may survive up to five years in this dormant state.
Tips for gardeners: Xerophytic ferns have proven to be quite adaptable in the Garden, suggesting that they have good potential for use in Bay Area landscapes. In general, they require porous, well-drained soil, with bright light and good air circulation. Xerophytic ferns can be used to enhance succulent and cactus displays.