by Kyle Sweet, Florida Master Naturalist
The Giant Leather Fern, Acrostichum danaeifolium, is a large wetland plant with dark brown spores on the underside of the leaves that give it a leathery brown appearance. Perfectly named, the Giant Leather Fern is a Florida native and the largest fern growing in our state.
The Giant Leather Fern, like many Floridians, has limited cold tolerance and due to this, is only found in Florida. Beyond the United States, this large fern can be found throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and from South America to Brazil.
It’s typically found in freshwater wetlands, including hammocks and cypress swamps, but it can tolerate enough salt that it will grow in mangrove swamps as well. In either habitat, it requires mostly sun throughout the entire year as well as constantly wet soil. Often, along the edges of properties, especially those that border along natural wetland areas on Sanibel, these ferns can be very successful and require limited maintenance compared to other plants in the landscape.
Reaching heights of 6-12’ and widths of up to 10’ , the Giant Leather fern can provide the look of a large shrub and for that “ tough to grow” area of your native Sanibel Landscape, could be looked at as an interesting specimen plant.
As it matures, pups ( small leather ferns ) will emerge around the bottom edges of the plant. These can be easily transplanted throughout your landscape into similar areas with wet conditions, keeping in mind to give these small plants plenty of room to grow to their mature size.
The winter in Southwest Florida is the driest time of the year and if that stubborn wet area is still around now, the Giant Leather Fern may be the perfect native plant to add to your landscape to handle the wet winter and possibly standing water in the summer months. Give Leather Fern a try!