Ferms or fungi sometimes its hard to know the difference

Ferns are a group of vascular plants that are characterized by their ability to reproduce via spores and their distinctive, fern-like leaves. But is a fern a plant or fungi? This question has puzzled scientists and botanists for centuries, and the answer is not as straightforward as you might think.

To understand whether ferns are plants or fungi, it’s important first to understand the differences between the two groups.

What is a plant?

Plants are a diverse group of organisms that are characterized by their ability to produce their own food through photosynthesis. They are multicellular and possess cell walls made of cellulose, which gives them their structural support. Most plants are also able to reproduce via seeds, which contain embryonic plants that can grow into new individuals.

There are many different types of plants, including flowering plants, conifers, ferns, mosses, and liverworts. All of these plants share certain characteristics, such as the ability to photosynthesize and produce seeds, but they also have many differences in terms of their appearance, habitat, and reproductive strategies.

Fern sorus on the leaves is a cluster of sporangia in ferns and fungi
Fern sorus on the leaves is a cluster of sporangia in ferns and fungi

What is a fungus?

Fungi are a diverse group of organisms that are characterized by their ability to break down and decompose organic matter. They are heterotrophic, which means that they are unable to produce their own food and must obtain it from other sources. Fungi are also unicellular or multicellular and possess cell walls made of chitin, a polysaccharide that is different from cellulose.

There are many different types of fungi, including yeasts, moulds, and mushrooms. All of these fungi share certain characteristics, such as their heterotrophic lifestyle and chitin-based cell walls, but they also have many differences in terms of their appearance, habitat, and reproductive strategies.

So, are ferns plants or fungi?

The answer to this question is not straightforward, as ferns share characteristics with both plants and fungi. On the one hand, ferns are vascular plants that possess cell walls made of cellulose and are able to photosynthesize. They also reproduce via spores, which are produced in specialized organs called sporangia.

On the other hand, ferns also share certain characteristics with fungi. For example, they have a symbiotic relationship with fungi called mycorrhizae, which help them absorb nutrients from the soil. In addition, ferns also have a life cycle that is similar to that of fungi, with a dominant spore-producing phase and a dependent phase in which they grow as vegetative plants.

Leave texture of fern with spores
Leave texture of the fern with spores

The evolution of ferns

To understand why ferns exhibit characteristics of both plants and fungi, it’s helpful to look at their evolutionary history. Ferns are thought to have evolved from a group of primitive plants called lycophytes, which are some of the oldest known land plants.

Lycophytes are thought to have evolved from green algae, which are photosynthetic organisms that live in water. Over time, these algae adapted to life on land and evolved into lycophytes, which were able to survive in dry environments thanks to their vascular tissue and waxy cuticle.

Ferns are thought to have evolved from lycophytes sometime during the Devonian period, which lasted from about 416 to 359 million years ago. It is believed that ferns evolved as a result of a symbiotic relationship with fungi, which provided them with nutrients and helped them survive in challenging environments.

In conclusion

Ferns are a group of vascular plants that possess characteristics of both plants and fungi. They share certain characteristics with plants, such as their ability to photosynthesize and produce seeds, but they also have certain features that are more characteristic of fungi, such as their symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizae and their life cycle.

The evolution of ferns is thought to have resulted from a symbiotic relationship between primitive land plants and fungi.