The Psilotum species of ferns are commonly known as the whisk fern. Its scientific name is Psilotum nudum. The name Psilotum comes from the Greek word “psilos” which means bare and nudum from the latin word for naked, nude.. This is because this plant lacks organs, such as leaves, which are on most other plants.
Psilotum represents the most primitive vascular plants today. There are tube-shaped cells in this plant which create its vascular system or a passageway for water, minerals and organic materials. This vascular system is, in general, like the vascular systems in trees shrubs, flower and grasses. This is where the similarities between Psilotum and plants end.
Psilotum does not have roots, leaves, flowers, fruits or seed. Instead it is mainly made up of stems. These stems may reach a height of one foot above the soil, but they also extend under the soil where they form many small stems which help to keep the plant upright. These underground stems, or rhizomes, also absorb the water and nutrients which the plant needs. Psilotum require contact with a special fungi to help in absorption.
There are enations, which are like appendages, that grow from the stems. There are also synangia which are clustered, yellow, spherical structures. The synangia produce spores that are microscopic and single-celled. These spores remain in the synangia until they are released, then the wind disperses them for miles. This is the way the Psilotum nudum reproduces.
Psilotum nudum grows in moist, rich soil or they may be found living on other plants as an apiphyte.
There are only ten species alive today from the taxonomic division that this plant belongs. However, at one time it made up quite a bit of the vegetation in North America, Europe and Asia. Fossils were uncovered in Scotland in the 1800s which show that Psilophyta, the taxonomic division to which this plant belongs, lived over 400 million years ago. The plant has not changed its appearance over this time.
These are the oldest and simplest vascular plants that are in scientific records, but where the plants originated is unknown. It has been shown that Psilotum nudum can be clssified as primitive ferns, not a separate plant division.
At one time, Psilotum nudum was used to create small brooms. In Japan it was used as an ornamental. Other than these uses this plant has remained a curiosity to many scientists.