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A giant prehistoric fern

ima pseudonym fictitious at alias.incognito.myob
Wed Sep 25 17:57:57 EST 1996

In article <9609251844.AA26266 at BCC.ORST.EDU>, brunetj at AVA.BCC.ORST.EDU says...

>   A student of mine is looking for the species name of a giant fern
>that secretes silica glass shards with poison, originates a long time
>ago, stands 6-18 feet tall, is touch sensitive and lives in Australian
>rain forests. Could anyone help? Thanks.

[Sounds like the botanical find of the century, if you've found one that 
fits this description...] 

There's no such beast, I'm afraid; it sounds like a very confused, garbled 
combination of bits of several plants. Where exactly did he/she hear of it? 
There are many types of tree ferns in rain forests of Australia and elsewhere 
with stems taller than 18 feet, and a few other big ferns with long leaves 
that get into your stated height range.  There are also stinging nettle trees 
[not ferns] with silicified stinging hairs [but not glass shards], and many 
other types of poisonous plants and still other types of plants with silica in 
cell walls or in intracellular crystalloid structures [none with macroscopic 
shards of glass anywhere, however].  There are a few touch-sensitive plants 
out there; the Venus' fly trap and Mimosa pudica are probably the most famous 
[no ferns as far as I know]. Pretty much all plant groups originated a long 
time ago in any human time scale of course, but if you mean traditional 
"living fossils" then  the true tree ferns and larger members of Marattiaceae 
[fernlike plants of about the right size] or Equisetum spp. [isolated living 
fossils famous for having silica in the cell walls, but not fernlike (except 
in being pteridophytes) and mostly not that large] or cycads [some are trees, 
they are palmlike or treefern-like, some are in Australia, some can be 
poisonous if eaten] are your best bets.

good luck.

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