Philippine Ferns and their Importance

Philippine Ferns and their Importance

Ferns or pteridophytes are primitive plants that are flowerless and seedless. They reproduce by means of spores found in their leaves or fronds. Widely distributed in the temperate and tropical areas of the world from the lowlands to mountain forests, there are about 12,000 kinds (species) of ferns known to man.

There are about 800 kinds of ferns in the Philippines, according to Dr. Victor Amoroso, one of the country’s leading fern specialists and a professor of the Central Mindanao University (CMU) in Musuan, Bukidnon. Of the total, 2m species are endemic (native) and 625 are non-endemic or introduced.

“Ferns are important for food, medicine and ornaments,” Dr. Amoroso said. “They are, however, threatened by deforestation and over- harvesting in the wild.”

The two most valuable ferns in the country are the terrestrial “Lady Fern” or pako (Diplazium esculentum) and the aquatic “Mosquito Fern” (Azolla pinnate). The “tender unfolding fronds” of pako are eaten raw as salad, cooked or pickled. It is popularly consumed in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea. The “Mosquito Fern” is so-called because it prevents the breeding of mosquitoes in stagnant waters like rice paddies where it can be used as “green manure.” With its symbiotic relationship with Anabaena (a blue- green alga), the Azolla is capable of fixing nitrogen in the air into nitrate for plant growth.

Dr. Amoroso says that the pako is a terrestrial fern found in the wild “in moist ground along streams and forest edges but never in the heavy shade of forests.” It can be propagated using its spores that can be collected from the mature leaves or through rhizome or root cuttings. Its young fronds are nutritious and delicious. In the book on Plant Resources of South-East Asia, the nutritional analysis of fresh pako 100 grams) showed it to contain 90% water, 3.1% protein, 0.3% fat, 3.9% carbohydrates, 1.2% fiber, 1.3% ash, 115 mg of phosphorus, 22 mg of calcium and 1.2 mg of iron. It also contained 29 mg of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).

Medicinally, decoctions of the rhizomes and young leaves of the “Lady Fern” are used to stop bleeding and treating coughs in the Philippines.

In Chinese traditional medicine, the tea of dried young leaves and rhizomes is drank as a diuretic

(increased urination) and as an antiinflamamatory agent. The plant contains alkaloids, tannin, formic acid, tartaric acid, arbutin, saponin and oxalic acid.

In the effort to conserve endangered ferns in the country like the highly- prized giant staghorn fern (Platycerium grande) which is endemic in Mindanao, scientists of the CMU led by Dr. Cecilia Amoroso and husband Victor have succeeded in producing plantlets of the species in vitro. Spores collected from “healthy fertile fronds” are germinated in Petri dishes containing artificial medium. The plantlets are produced after about 8 months of culture and then transplanted into pots containing chopped adventitious roots of anonotong (Cyathea) and compost.

For more information and inquiries, readers may contact Dr. Victor Amoroso through email (

Source: MARID January 2010

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