The Pine Barrens is a heavily forested area of coastal plains in the southern part of New Jersey. It is where the first recorded sighting of Curly grass fern was found. It was discovered at the Quaker Bridge in 1805. This interesting discovery attracted botanists from all over the Pine Barrens. The illusive plant was not easy to find and it was not seen again for thirteen years when it popped up in 1818.
Curly grass fern is in the fern group and is a part of the schizaeaceae family. The scientific classification is Schizaea pusilla and it is a perennial plant. The Curly grass fern can grow up to ten centimeters tall. Its habitats include low mossy woods, sandy depressions, sphagnous (mossy wet areas) bogs or damp peaty areas.
The Curly grass fern is plentiful in southern Newfoundland. The plants from eastern Canada are thicker and shorter than the New Jersey plant.
When the Curly grass fern first starts to grow they are phototropic, which means they grow away from the light and later as they mature they be phototripic, which means they grow towards the light. The gametophytes, which are responsible for growing the male and female gamets are grown in connection with an endophytic (a parasitic plant living within another plant) fungus. It seems to have a mycorrhizal or mutually beneficial relationship. There seems to be a second relationship with an endophytic or parasitic, inward growing fungus that is not mycorrhizal in nature.
The Curly grass fern is probably the most famous plant that grows in the state of New Jersey. It's unique and plentiful spiraling fronds are quite different from other plants. They look like tiny curled blades of grass. The Curly grass is not very common but that doesn't mean it is rare either. It is so easily overlooked because of it's small size. This plant does not look like most other ferns The fronds themselves can be up to four or five inches tall. There is a structure at the top of the fronds that are about a quarter inch tall and an eighth of an inch or less in width. It is notched on one side and attached on the other. The fronds usually show up during the summer and on into the winter months and are how the Curly grass fern is identified. The Curly grass fern does not have blooms, as it is a true fern but it does have fruit from July to September.