Stenochlaena palustris: Climbing fern

Family: Blechnaceae
Common name: Climbing fern

Climbing ferns look like they climbed out of a history book that depicts plants that adorned the earth thousands of years ago. Growing wildly in tropical countries like India and China, they are seen in places with abundant rainfall and humidity.

The plants can grow to a height of over 20 meters, with their stems clinging to the surrounding vegetation. Fronds are long and green with 10-15 pairs of leaflets in addition to one leaflet at the tip.

Leaves are pale pinkish-red when they are young, and almost tender. As they grow older, the leaves become think and leathery with serrate, uneven margins.

Each leaflet is 10-15 cm long and 3-4 cm wide. Fertile leaflets have abundant sporangia on the lower surface, helping in quick propagation over large areas as they are carried by wind to new areas.

Rhizomes attach themselves to trees and other structures helping the plant climb with thin, brown stems. Climbing ferns are usually seen in open areas, grasslands, and swamps, their stems thriving even when they are partially submerged in water.

Their resistance to salt water, heat and rains make them very hardy and difficult to get rid of. These plants can grow quickly covering large areas in a short period of time.

The strong stems of these Climbing ferns are used to make baskets, belts, ropes and fish traps. Young shoots are eaten raw or cooked, in salads, soups, stir fries and stews. They also have some medicinal properties, and are used in the treatment of fever, stomach pain, skin diseases, ulcers and indigestion.

Stenochlaena means ‘narrow-cloak’, so called because of the abundant sporangia covering lower surfaces of fertile fronds, and palustris means ‘from swamps’ referring to the plant’s favorite habitat.

Since these plants are not eaten by cattle, they have to be kept in check by chopping them away, or hand-plucking. But they are very difficult to remove completely since a small piece of rhizome can produce more plants. Climbing ferns are good ground cover plants, growing abundantly in the wild.

Propagation is through spores or from rhizomes.