Fern Life Cycle. Ferns belong to the Division Pterophyta characterized by vascular plants with leaves (fronds) arising from subterranean, creeping rhizomes. In tree ferns, the leaves are produced on a definite woody trunk. The dominant (conspicuous) part of the life cycle is the diploid, leaf-bearing sporophyte. On the underside of the leaves are rows of brown sori. Each sorus is composed of a cluster of sporangia, and is often covered by a thin outer layer called the indusium. Some ferns such as Polypodium and Cyrtomium do not have the indusium. Ferns are classified by the arrangement of the sori and shape of the indusium. The sori and indusium superficially resemble an infestation of scale insects, and some people actually spray their ferns! Spore mother cells within the sporangium undergo meiosis, producing numerous haploid spores. The sporangia split open at maturity, releasing millions of spores that fall to the ground like tiny particles of dust. The splitting open of a sporangium is caused by a thick-walled, outer belt of cells called the annulus. As the cells of the annulus dry out, the annulus contracts and rips open the sporangial wall, thus dispersing the spores.
Each spore germinates and grows into a heart-shaped gametohyte (prothallus) which is smaller than your little finger nail. This haploid gametophyte bears male and female sex organs (antheridia and archegonia). With respect to populations of gametophytes, ferns are typically monoecious with both male and female sex organs on the same gametophytes. Unlike the unisexual gametophytes of a moss, a fern gametophyte is bisexual. Like mosses, ferns have a primitive method of fertilization that involves a multiciliate sperm that swims through water to reach the egg. The gametophytes and sporophytes of ferns are photosynthetic and autotrophic.