Ferns of Hong Kong and South China

Whilst the so-called ‘higher’ plants reproduce using flowers, fruits and seeds, ferns reproduce by spores that are usually borne under the leaves. For this reason, ferns are regarded as primitive land plants. However, like flowering plants they have a vascular system, allowing internal transport of fluids between the roots and leaves – this has allowed some species to attain larger sizes and occupy drier habitats than algae, mosses and liverworts, which are truly among the most primitive plants still extant today. The leaves of most fern species are completely or partially divided, in a pinnate fashion, into fronds composed of leaflets.

There are approximately 12,000 species of ferns widely distributed throughout the world. The Fern Flora of Hong Kong reported 239 fern species native to Hong Kong in 2003, being found mainly in humid forests or streamside environments, but also in many other habitat types, including rock crevices, wetlands and the even the sea shore. This rich assemblage of fern species includes some unusual and protected species, such as Angiopteris fokiensis, Cibotium barometz, Neottopteris nidus and Cyatheaceae spp. (tree ferns). A lot of fern species are threatened by habitat degradation, as they mostly prefer forest environments.

To facilitate the conservation of native ferns in Hong Kong, Fern Walk was established at KFBG for both ex situ conservation and public education purposes. More than 130 species of native ferns are in cultivation here within an area of 0.5 hectares along our natural stream. Almost 70 of these are considered endangered in the wild.

In addition to ex situ conservation, KFBG also carries out in situ conservation projects on ferns in Hong Kong and South China. In the 1990s, we collaborated with the South China Institute of Botany (now combined with the South China Botanic Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences) to conduct a survey of Hong Kong ferns, which resulted in the publication of The Fern Flora of Hong Kong in 2003. A new survey was conducted in 2009 with the help of Professor Yan Yuehong of the Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden. This survey identified up to 20 fern species new to Hong Kong. In addition to the Hong Kong surveys, KFBG has sponsored fern surveys in Guangxi, Hainan and Hunan Provinces. 

* Pinnate – Feather-like, referring to the pattern of leaflets in a subdivided leaf.

* Modern – used in geology, generally means the Holocene (11700years ago - present )