Monday, June 15, 2015

Virginia ferns, part III: Vittaria appalachiana

The highlight of our trip to Virginia (posts I and II) was finding Vittaria appalachiana in a perfect sandstone habitat at the end of a trail near Mountain Lake Biological Station. The trail was called Bear Cliffs trail, and it terminates in some craggy shallow gorges that are full of ferns and other vegetation. Our group included several researchers who have worked extensively on fern gametophytes and several gametophyte-only species - these are ferns that never make sporophytes (the big, green, leafy things that we think of when we think about ferns). A classic example of this type of life history in ferns is Vittaria appalachiana, also known as the Appalachian gametophyte, which occurs in sheltered sandstone rockhouses throughout the Appalachian mountains and plateau region. After a thorough hunt, we were able to turn up some V. appalachiana tucked back in one of the sandstone shelters!

Typical sheltered habitat for V. appalachiana
The dark crevices are where these ferns like to live
Joel Nitta, a grad student at Harvard, after gametophytes!
The product of a successful search - a tweezer-ful of Appalachian gametophytes

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