The EAG continues its project: The Conservation of Ferns of Antigua and Barbuda.
The project aims to research and conserve the native ferns of Antigua, Barbuda and
Redonda, and over the last year, the project’s Principal Investigator, Kevel Lindsay,
has conducted several weeks of fieldwork to study to and determine the status of
the ferns of the country, highlight those of critical conservation concern and develop
a conservation outlook for the species and their habitats, including their overall
value to the country’s biodiversity heritage, while working to increase local awareness
and appreciation for them.
Ferns in Antigua and Barbuda come in amazingly diverse forms - mangrove ferns which
can grow to 4 metres high, tiny epiphytic ferns, a centimetre or so high, aquatic
ferns, vine-like climbers and grass-like species. The leaf shapes come in an enormous
variety of feathery arching fronds, tongue-shaped fronds, grass like fronds and even
If you would like further information or to participate in this effort, please contact
Why are ferns so important?
The ferns of Antigua, Barbuda and Redonda are one of the least studied and least
understood groups of plants. Many are quite rare, and most are found in the volcanic
southwest of the island, some restricted to the moist sheltered valleys of the this
region. Some species are rarely seen, including Thelypteris patens—common on other
more mountainous Lesser Antillean islands, but quite rare in Antigua and last seen
perhaps over 40 years ago; or Thelypteris hispidula, a species that has been nicknamed
the “pepper fern” because of the stinging sensation that results when the leaves
are pressed on to the tongue. Antigua has two varieties: var. hispidula causes a
mild to moderate burning sensation to the mouth, and var. inconstans cause extremely
mild numbness. These species can only be observed in steep remote valleys with stable
montane forests where there is lots of moisture such as in upper Christian Valley.
Tropical ferns are extraordinarily beautiful plants with their delicate arching leaves,
or fronds as they are usually called - undoubtedly the most beautifully shaped leaves
in the plant kingdom!
Also, ferns beautify the environment in a way that other plants cannot. This is because
many ferns live in environments that other plants cannot tolerate - on shady tree
branches ("epiphytes"), on rock faces (lithophytes), in wetlands and in mangrove
environments. Tourists from Europe and America are especially awestruck as they normally
only encounter these beautiful plants as indoor pot plants! Although most ferns prefer
damp, shady conditions, some of our ferns, like the spectacular Goldback Fern on
Redonda, grow in dry, sunny locations ("xerophytes") - this is particularly amazing
to many tourists who have never encountered such ferns.
As well as their beauty, ferns are especially valuable plants for the following reason:
Because most fern species can only survive in healthy moist, shady forests, many
of which are under threat throughout the Caribbean and also in threatened mangrove
and wetland areas, they are an important barometer of the ecological health of the
Background to the Project
The project is a natural outcome of the Antigua and Barbuda Plant Conservation Project
(ABPCP), which in 2009 produced one of the most significant works on the country’s
native and naturalised plants: The Wild Plants of Antigua and Barbuda: An Illustrated
Field Guide to the Native and Naturalised Vascular Plants – click here for more information.
Progress to Date
The EAG has published two new reports on the country’s ferns and their habitats:
- The Regional Red List of Pteridophytes of Antigua and Barbuda
- Protecting the Native Pteridophytes of Antigua, Barbuda and Redonda: A Conservation
These are available as free downloads - click on the boxes in the left column on
Several new species of ferns have been added to the country’s record, which up until
2007 stood at around 50 species. The list of ferns for the islands currently stands
at over 80 species, and that number is growing. Fieldwork over the last four years,
and especially over the last 12 months, have added some new interesting records,
including the Netted Adder’s Tongue (Ophioglossum reticulatum), a species of primitive
ferns with simple leaves reminiscent of a tongue, and spores on long stalks, and
the Glossy Maidenhair (Adiantum pulverulentum), a beautiful and delicate species
found only at Mount Obama. There are also several species found only in the West
Indies that have now been added to our islands’ list.
Through this project, the team has also added new plant species to the country’s
record, including new orchids and other plants, and has also photographed many rare
plants, some now being seen for the first time by local experts.
So what’s coming up next for this project? The EAG is working on an atlas and guide
to the country’s ferns. Hopefully, a first draft will be available by the end of
2012. Stay tuned for updates on this.
The organisation is also working tirelessly to secure additional funding to expand
the effort to address the conservation of the islands’ rare plants and their habitats.
This is a major challenge, and one with a long-term view, but the EAG is up to the
task. We will keep our readers updated on our progress.
Click here for a short slide-show of some of the islands’ ferns, including those
mentioned above, and of the various habitats where many of the species are found.
Conserving the Native Ferns of Antigua and Barbuda
The EAG would like to thank the Rufford Small Grants Foundation and the Mohammed
Bin Zayed Conservation Fund for their generous financial support for this project.
With this document, it is our hope that we may encourage national support for the
protection of native species and habitats, to stimulate science and research of the
local flora and fauna, and to help increase the awareness about the importance and
value of the islands’ native fern flora.
With this effort, the EAG hopes to focus attention
on the country’s pteridophyte flora, to encourage national support for the
protection of native species and habitats, to stimulate science and research into
the local biodiversity, and to help increase the awareness about the importance