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Ferns evolved early in the development of land-based plants. They reproduce by means of spores produced on their fronds, which at one stage of their development have to swim in a film of water. This ties ferns to habitats that are wet for at least part of the year, although species such as bracken rely on vegetative reproduction to succeed in dry habitats as well. The arrival of the seed, and of the flower that carries it, left ferns behind in the evolutionary race.

Most ferns have divided leaves, including two of the commonest, the male fern and the broad buckler fern, both of which prefer shady places such as woods or hedge banks.|Two ferns, though, have strap-like leaves – hartstongue fern grows in wet woods and on walls and adderstongue fern grows in meadows.

Another distinctive fern is hard fern, long pinnate leaves forming a tuft and others spreading out from the base. It is found mainly in woods and also on heaths.

© Owen Keen