Fronds of a healthy suelopsid that is eating what was possibly a tree.
Ferns are any one of a hundred species of plants within the division Pteridophyta, which differentiates from other vascular plants by the fact that members have evolved to exist in any conceivable environment. Unlike other divisions which use seeds to reproduce, ferns, like mosses, use spores which are smaller, more efficient, much easier to produce and much faster to spread. Subsequent to a more recent evolution, the size and adaptability off the fern spore has enabled them to become the most rapidly spreading organism in the solar system.
Thus far, ferns belong to the only division of plant known to contain a crystalline substructure. Unlike other plants that contain woody matter as support, ferns utilise a network of silicon fibres to both support the weight of the fronds and act as a deterrent to herbivores.
The first true plants were mosses, the Bryophyta. Absorbing water directly, the Bryophyta were still a breakthrough from previous wannabes for the simple fact that they did require constant aquatic surroundings, instead only requiring an incredibly moist climate. Like the fungi that soon came as well, mosses reproduced with spores, again relying on a fairly constant supply of water. These primordial spores could only sprout into plants under very specific conditions, and the first ferns followed this pattern as well.
When ferns arose, it was gradual. These were still essentially mosses, only managing to grow larger, faster, and further from the water sources. Developing vascular systems to support their newly acquired size, ferns immediately dominated. No longer was near constant water a necessity, only a commodity. Where the mosses reigned, the ferns succeeded, and where previously nothing subsisted at all, suddenly an explosive radiation of ferns expanded across the lands, each adapting to whatever nook it could find. In time, they even grew off the ground, reaching for the sky, the first trees.
But the spores were still undeveloped, still the primordial spores that had functioned so well for the moss before. There was no need to develop further; for their habitat what they had was perfect. Even when spermatophytes, seed plants, began to arise, the spore had little reason to evolve. The herbivores that had previously subsisted on the ferns jumped immediately for the much softer, squishier, more palatable seed plants, and thus they proved a distraction from the ferns, nothing more.
Yet in the millions of years since the first varieties of the other plants, ferns have changed. They have evolved; the spores have improved, for they still have had to compete with the durable seeds despite how much more eaten the plants were when they sprouted.
And so ferns evolved, quietly, in the background. Across the millennia, the spores changed, altered, and now they are perfect once more.
The Fern Threat
Unfortunately, ferns have become too perfect. Unlike other organisms that have ecological barriers on their expansion such as predators, resources and space, ferns have none. Their crystalline substructure prevents predation, and as evidenced by floor ferns, many have the ability to process raw materials (though they just prefer organic compounds). They can also adapt to any environment, even space, and thus they have as much space to expand as the universe contains. Subsequently, unlike other organisms that have become threatened over the centuries, ferns have become a Threat.
According to scientists, if the current growth rate continues, ferns may soon breach containment of this solar system and contaminate the galaxy as a whole with their seemingly unending expansion. Yet growing publicity surrounding the so-called 'Fern Threat' has garnered an opposition. There exist several groups who in fact do not see them as a threat at all and merely dismiss the idea as further hogwash propaganda along the same lines as global warming, homosexuality, and plague, saying the "nonsense is propagated merely to spread terror."
Types of Ferns
A contributing factor to the underestimation of the current Fern Threat is the sheer number of varieties in which ferns come - shapes, sizes, colours, habitats, even states of matter. The highly adaptive nature of the spores enables the young ferns to grow in exact accordance to where they landed, or in the case of space ferns, where they did not land.
- Classification suelopsida or polypodiopsida
Possibly the most confusing form of fern, unlike most plants, these do not require soil, nor do they use aerial roots, yet they still require water and other nutrients to subsist. Instead, they find a surface and grow along it, usually a horizontal surface such as a sidewalk or floor and sometimes even vertical surfaces like walls and trees, absorbing anything the trickles or falls across their path.
The fact that they will just as soon flourish inside an abode as out has awarded floor ferns quite the reputation as pests, though according to recent studies they can also double as waste disposal units, not unlike dogs, due to the fact that they will consume any compostable items as well as many household objects left in their range.
That is to say, they eat garbage.
When actually invited, they make excellent houseplants.
- Classification lomesuipsida
Also known as duckweed, these ferns grow along the surface of still or slow-moving bodies of water, often completely covering all available surface area. In doing so, they block out the light that would otherwise reach the organisms below, killing off aquatic plants and algae and subsequently anything that would normally subsist off of those. This severely detriments infested aquatic ecosystems, and efforts are regularly made to stem the spread so as to save nearby systems, often to little effect.
It is unfortunate, but once a water body becomes infested, there is little saving it. The only thing to be done is to stop the spread.
- Classification colineopsida
Hill ferns are relatively unremarkable among their kind. Growing only on the ground and even coexisting with grass, shrubs and trees, the only danger hill ferns truly present is their image. Constant exposure acclimates people to seeing them around and as a result they get complacent around ferns, thinking them harmless. This idea of harmlessness extends to other ferns, often enabling them to acquire a foothold in seemingly innocuous places and from there utterly obliterate all other plant and animal life.
- Classification arboriopsida
One of the most verdant and lush varieties of ferns, these large trees can grow to be over six metres tall. Starting out as ordinary ground ferns indistinguishable from garden variety hill ferns, as tree ferns mature they go on to develop trunks. These trunks enable them to grow up from the ground, taking up less floor space while at the same time casting ever deeper shadows that render far more area of a forest floor uninhabitable to other plants than any mere ground fern could manage alone.
Being so large, however, tree ferns grow much more slowly than most ferns, putting them at little more dangerous to ecosystems as a whole then most coniferous trees. They do still tend to crowd out the other trees, although this rarely concerns anyone besides conservational botanists.
- Classification equisetopsida or sphenopsida
Reed ferns, also known as horsetails, typically grow in wet areas such as marshes, riversides and the shallows of lakes and ponds. Often found in the company of lake ferns, equisetopsida will protrude from a coated water body giving the illusion that the lake ferns are in fact dry ground. This serves no apparent practical purpose to the ferns, but can make for an amusing incident when an animal attempts to reach them.
Simultaneously infesting wet areas with lake ferns, reed ferns expedite the takeover with their ability to rapidly crowd out other reeds and disrupt current habitats of marine wildlife. Reed ferns are the only other plant lake ferns have been observed to allow to grow in an infested area, leading to speculation that there may in fact be some sort of communication between the phyla.
- Classification vacilodeniopsida
The source of most of the current controversy and the primary cause of the Fern Threat being what it is, space ferns are a problem. Defying all reason and to some extent even the very definition of 'plant', space ferns have literally ceased all connections with ground, trees, and even atmosphere. They exist only in the vacuum of space, drifting between the stars, sending spores across the galaxy.
As a result of their rampant spread, they are banned on most civilised worlds and efforts have been made to eradicate them from all reaches of space. For now, they seem to be contained within a radiation field spanning this solar system, but previous evidence suggests it will not be long before they adapt around that as well.
- Classification glaciopsida
Often referred to as 'glass ferns,' and 'crystaline ferns,' ice ferns are theorised to be nothing more than ordinary ground ferns that have managed to adapt to grow without carbon compounds. An entirely silicon-based life-form, ice ferns are not actually ice as they were initially taken for upon their discovery, instead they are now believed to be the result of a highly specialised adaptation of the crystalline substructure inherent to nearly all species within Pteridophyta.
Initially, as the first fern spores drifted beyond the confines of our solar system, they and the space ferns they eventually grew to be went largely unnoticed. The galaxy is so very large and individual ferns so small that a few drifting about the black was little more than further unremarkable space debris. But as the centuries passed and the ferns adapted to better survive the harshness of space, they multiplied exponentially and the survival increased at ever increasing rates. When ferns began to block established shipping routes and invading other worlds, they could go ignored no longer, and fearing for the integrity of the universe, the galactic government stepped in, declaring a state of emergency.
The President of the Galaxy, the Galactic Senate and the Major Powers convened in an emergency conference, booking one of the Capital's finer delis, lasting four days. Finally, after much deliberation and sandwich-consumption, a solution was agreed upon.
At the following press conference the President of the Galaxy announced, "We will not stand for this blatant invasion of our empire by an unfashionable non-member planet, not after the incident with the chickens, oh no." He then proceeded to outline one of the most simplistic, dire and over-the-top plans the galaxy had even known: the automated annihilation of every fern outside of the offending solar system with kill-bots, followed by standard quarantine procedures.
While the nuclear-powered kill-bots rather effectively eliminated the ferns that had grown past a larval stage, spores still contaminate much of the known universe, forcing the kill-bots into a never-ending cycle of space-fern elimination. 'Standard quarantine procedures' as well, although currently containing the ferns within this galaxy, will doubtfully suffice for long, as the primary measure involved is a powerful radiation field. Ferns have had no trouble adapting to radiation in the past.
Controversy Over Fern Origins
With all of the press ferns have received, they have also become the focus of far more speculation and conspiracy theories than any other division of plants. Because of their unusual crystalline substructure and the recent discovery of glaciopsida, their sheer strangeness has led some to believe that Pteridophyta is not actually native to this planet. Possibly introduced by some primordial meteor come crashing down or maybe even by a passing alien spacecraft, spores of an alien plant could well have adapted, by sheer coincidence, to resemble native mosses. In time, they would have adapted to the full-glory of a space-faring plant, as ferns clearly have now.
If this is true, the galaxy faces a much greater threat than one dubiously quarantined world. The homeworld and true origin of the ferns is still out there, unknown, unfound, and potentially the source of far more dangerous varieties of ferns.