Saved: Governor Laffan’s Fern is seen here growing in a lab in Omaha, Nebraska. *Photo supplied
Saved: Governor Laffan’s Fern is seen here growing in a lab in Omaha, Nebraska. *Photo supplied

Conservationists have been given a unique insight into techniques that helped bring one of Bermuda’s rarest plant species back from the brink of extinction.

Biodiversity officer, Alison Copeland, recently visited Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha to learn how experts propagated the endangered Governor Laffan’s Fern.

It was also the first time the Bermudian plant specialist was able to see a mature Laffan’s Fern species, as the plant is now extinct in the wild on the island, as well as the laboratory where they were saved from extinction.

The visit was part of an ongoing partnership between Conservation Services and Omaha Zoo to re-introduce the fern back on the island.

And last year the project saw specialists from Henry Doorly Zoo bringing over a batch of 20 sealed jars containing several hundred ‘baby’ ferns on agar jelly that had been produced in Omaha.

Ms Copeland told the Bermuda Sun: “We collected some spores from the adults and took them back to the lab.

“There I learned to scrape the spores from the fronds and how to get them started in a petri dish of nutrient-rich agar gel. 

“I also learned how to clean the spores, and the steps needed to put them into storage for use at a later date.

“Cryopreservation of seeds and spores is a key tool in the preservation of endangered plants. It involves flash freezing the plant material with liquid nitrogen and storing it at extremely cold temperatures.

“I learned how to take bundles of germinated fern spores out of their sterile containers, divide them up, and spread them out into new containers so they had more room to grow and a fresh supply of nutrient-rich gel.

“By doing this over and over, our collaborators have been able to make thousands of little ferns.

“All in all, it was great for me to see the lab and where our little ferns came from. I got to meet their parents.”

Governor Laffan’s Fern is unique to Bermuda and historically was found in the Walsingham area of Hamilton parish, between Harrington Sound and Castle Harbour, and in Paynters Vale.

It was found in rock crevices and around cave mouths in this area up until 1905.

Governor Laffan’s Fern was last seen in the wild in the autumn of 1905 by prominent botanist Nathaniel Lord Britton.

Ms Copeland said: “We are hopeful that we will be in a position to start planting the first batch of ferns that arrived in 2012 some time in the new year.

“They are doing well at the moment and we want to get them back in the wild in managed sites.

“But knowing that there are lots of healthy ferns in the US provides us with a comfort blanket and allows us to experiment with them more here in Bermuda as we try to re-introduce them.”

She added: “We are very appreciative of the efforts of Marge From and Melanie Landry at Henry Doorly Zoo.

“They have put a lot of time and energy into this project over the last 10 years, and as a result we are in a pretty good position right now with Governor Laffan’s fern – we have several hundred juveniles on the island and many more in the Omaha lab.

“We have some bigger juvenile ferns on the island which will hopefully be mature in a few years and producing spores.”