Pteris vittata

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Pteris vittataFamily: Pteridaceae
Genus: Pteris
Common names: Arsenic Fern, Chinese Brake, Ladder Brake
ALA reference

This fern is native to Queensland but also widespread through Asia and tropical Africa. It can often be found growing in cracks in concrete structures such as crib-lock walls or even between gaps in walls constructed using “coppers logs”. What makes this fern extremely interesting is its ability to concentrate high levels of arsenic in its fronds. It is the only multi-cellular organism that can do this. This capability must have given this fern an incredible advantage in the age old evolutionary “arms race” between plants, with their chemical defences, and the animals that want to eat them. This feature was only discovered in the 1990s but this fern is already being used in a number of countries for the remediation of sites contaminated by toxic elements particularly arsenic. The ferns are grown on the affected site and the fronds (or whole ferns) are regularly harvested and disposed of safely as they extract the arsenic from the soil. (April 2012)

See also Pteris umbrosa.

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