Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Ferns – Curious Life Cycles and Remarkable Biodiversity


Go behind the scenes and meet Dr. Eric Schuettpelz, a botanist who studies ferns at the National Museum of Natural History. Have you ever noticed how distinct ferns look and wondered why? Get a glimpse of the diversity of ferns in the Smithsonian's plant collection. Take a closer look with Eric at the unique aspects of fern life cycles. Figure out what having spores, but not seeds, means for a fern's fertility. Challenge yourself to better understand the unusual flexibility of fern reproduction. Ponder what features have allowed ferns to persist on Earth for millions of years, while adapting to new conditions. Follow Eric and his colleagues to some of the most isolated islands in the world, the Marquesas, to explore the profusion of ferns on islands. Learn about the awesome adaptations that allow ferns to colonize and reproduce in new places.

This program originally aired April 19, 2018, as part of the Smithsonian Science How webcast series, which is designed to bring natural history science and research to upper-elementary and middle-school students.

Teaching Resources

Ferns, Spores, and Plant Reproduction

National Middle School Standards

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Life Science

MS-LS1 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

  • MS-LS1-4: Use argument based on empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support an explanation for how characteristic animal behaviors and specialized plant structures affect the probability of successful reproduction of animals and plants respectively.

MS-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

  • MS-LS2-2: Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.

MS-LS4 Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

  • MS-LS4-4: Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals' probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.
Resource Type
Grade Level
Life Science