How to Identify a Fern Leaf Tree

Updated April 17, 2017

Fern leaf trees have an incredibly long lifespan and are the oldest type of plant in existence. While the fern thrives in humid environments such as tropical rainforests, it is relatively versatile and also exists in cooler climates throughout the world. Accurately identifying a fern leaf tree is a relatively challenging process, since there are more than 12,000 species. However, examining fern characteristics such as spore colour or leaf shape will help narrow the possibilities.

Study a fern identification guidebook you can purchase at a bookstore or borrow from the public library. Online sites are also available to help with the identification process, providing photos and descriptions of many fern plants (see Resources).

Explore the spore location, colour, shape and size by looking at the underside of the leaf. The spores look like small dots and vary in colour and shape.

Study the fern's height, which can vary from short, medium and large. Short is classified as anything less than 10 inches; medium is 10 inches to 2 feet; large is anything above 2 feet. For instance, the Rattlesnake Fern commonly found in Canada, Europe and the United States grows between 12 to 18 inches tall, while an Evergreen Tree Fern may grow up to 40 feet tall.

Study the leaf attributes, otherwise known as the frond. This includes the shape of the leaf, the stem surface and the stem groove. The leaves of some fern varieties may be shaped as a triangle or an oval; the stem may be various shades of green and sometimes black or brown.

Cross-reference the characteristics of the fern leaf you are studying with fern descriptions found either online or in the guidebook to make a proper assessment and identification.

Things You'll Need

  • Fern identification guidebook
  • Fern leaf
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About the Author

Stephanie Lee began writing in 2000 with concentration on food, travel, fashion and real estate. She has written for Amnesty International and maintains three blogs. Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in international relations from the University of California, Irvine, and an M.B.A. from Concordia University.