Published Date2019-11-15
JournalAnnals of botany, 2019-11-15, Volume 124 Find other publications in this journal
Author Info
  • Colgate University, Department of Biology, Hamilton, NY, USA.
  • New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY, USA.


Through careful field examination of the growth habit of the gametophytes and sporophytes of Hymenasplenium volubile across an ontogenetic series, we aim to understand better the evolution of epiphytism in this poorly understood group of ferns.We made field observations of H. volubile sporophytes and gametophytes, and brought specimens back to the lab for microscopic analysis. In the field, sporophytes at each ontogenetic stage were photographed to document the species' growth habit. We used an existing phylogeny to optimize growth form of New World Hymenasplenium.Young sporophytes were at first fully epiphytic and produced one or two long feeding roots that extend to the soil where they branch profusely. The feeding roots remain in contact with the soil throughout the life of the plant. Thus, H. volubile is a hemiepiphyte. While immature, gametophytes are appressed to the tree trunk, but, as their gametangia mature, their lower margin lifts upward, imparting a shelf-like appearance to the thallus. The thallus attaches to the substrate by branched rhizoids produced along the margin of the thallus in contact with the substrate.Hemiepiphytes are a key link in the evolution of epiphytic ferns and may act as a bridge between the forest floor and the canopy. Our finding is the first report of hemiepiphytism in Aspleniaceae, a large lineage with many epiphytic and terrestrial taxa. This work serves as an important model to understand the evolution of epiphytism in this group specifically and in ferns in general. The majority of our understanding of fern gametophyte biology is derived from laboratory studies. Our efforts represent a fundamental contribution to understanding fern gametophyte ecology in a field setting.