A delicate, rootless fern that once sprouted in dense mats all across South Florida’s spiny limestone ridge is being added to the endangered species list, federal wildlife managers announced this week.
Largely wiped out by development and threatened by sea rise, the Florida bristle fern now grows in just six spots in Miami-Dade and Sumter counties, covering just 155-square feet — less than a twentieth the size of a regulation tennis court. In 2009 when the fern was first nominated for protection, it was found in 10 different locations.
Because it grows in pockets of limestone where water collects, the fern is among the endangered species more vulnerable to sea rise . As seas rise, its coastal habitat will likely shrink.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will now draft a plan to save the fern, which may include designating critical habitat. The agency said it expects to complete the plan next year. The designation only protects ferns on federal land. It has no effect on private land other than to draw attention to the fern’s plight.