I am wondering how many people know that ferns (yes like the meedin that we eat almost every day) are a very ancient family of plants: early fern fossils predate the beginning of the Mesozoic era, 360 million years ago. They are older than land animals and far older than the dinosaurs. They were thriving on Earth for two hundred million years before the flowering plants evolved.
In Sarawakian folk lore the fern is a very important feature in the art of pua kumbu amongst the Ibans. Indeed it is one of the major five patterns in Iban traditional art.
The photos below depict the Oak-leaf Fern or Drynaria quercifolia which is an ephiphyte. If you care to look up at older trees you can either find the Rajang or the Oak Leaf Ferns. There are many of such epiphytes in Miri and Marudi. Many are also found in Brunei. These places have kept many of the older trees in spite of the rapid development. Hence you see more of these epiphytes. Some parks even try to transplant the Rajangs and the Oak Leaf Ferns from the jungles as part of their beautification programmes.
If you look closely at the photos you will two sets of leaves : the brown leaves which form a nest by overlapping each other thus forming armour plates around the green ferns/rhizome. These nest ferns function as "trappers" of debris and as 'funnels' directing nutrient-enriched run-offs of rain water from the tree canopy to the rhizome.
The longer and greener foliage leaves are the "living" ferns which serve as photosynthetic leaves and are capable of producing spores.
The lower browner leaves look like oak leaves hence these ferns are called Oak Leaf Ferns.
These oak leaf ferns have inspired many artists and designers in recent years. Earrings and special pendants have been designed to look like these beautiful ferns. Some serviettes and even table cloths have oak leaf fern designs on them. I have seen several oil paintings depicting these oak leaf ferns.
Here is another shot which shows that the green foliage of the ferns grow very upright and are happily nested on the trunk supported by the brown leaves.
There are hundreds of species of ferns in the equatorial rainforest and today many green houses all over the world are trying to grow them as house plants. An Indian scientific report even says that this Oak leaf fern may cure tuberculosis. But definitely ferns will continue to be sensitive indicators of our ever changing global temperature and moisture levels.
So next time you visit a garden or trek up a hill try to catch a glimpse of oak leaf ferns.
When God created the earth and these ferns He must have wanted to remind Man and his future generations of reverence for life. (Albert Schweitzer)
In so many of His creation He brings reminders to mankind. In my opinion the Oak Fern serves this purpose very well. The older browner ferns are the parents who lay down their life to bring about the new generation. And as they lie dying their leave formation continue to capture food for the younger foliage.
How tight the older leaves hold together to provide that safety net for the younger leaves! And I do hope that all parents are just as protective and supportive of their children!