Explore Magazine Volume 2 Issue 1


Research Helps Florida Fern Industry Survive

Four out of every five bouquets features ferns from Florida, but in recent years, Florida's fern industry has struggled for survival because of inflation, disease, increasing government regulations, foreign competition and the crop's need for large amounts of water and nutrients.

So scientists at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have established a cooperative effort with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and St. Johns River Water Management District to develop ways to reduce operating costs for growing leatherleaf fern that will increase profits without decreasing production.

Leatherleaf fern production traditionally has included the use of large amounts of nutrients and water to ensure high yields of marketable fronds. However, such high inputs can be costly both in terms of production costs and effects on the environment, said Robert Stamps, a researcher and professor of cut foliage at the UF/IFAS Central Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka.

The leatherleaf fern capital of the world, rural North Florida produces cut foliage on more than 10,000 acres of shade houses and in naturally shaded oak tree hammocks. Each fern leaf is picked by hand and shipped to wholesalers worldwide.

Leatherleaf fern is a $70-million-a-year wholesale industry and the most valuable ornamental crop produced in Florida. Ninety-seven percent of U.S. leatherleaf fern production occurs between Palatka, Clermont and Daytona Beach.

Stamps said research over the past five years has shown that commercially acceptable leatherleaf fern can be produced using much less fertilizer and water. Applying amounts of nitrogen less than half of what previously was used caused no reductions in yield or quality when combined with irrigation based on the soil's water content.

Sylvia K. Beauchamp

photo by Thomas Wright

Robert Stamps examines the popular leatherleaf fern.