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A few ferns propagate by root proliferations, and some, especially in the wet tropics, reproduce by leaf proliferations.

In ferns the gametophytes are commonly referred to as prothallia (prothallium), and they are best known to biologists as laboratory objects in artificial culture.

They are rarely observed in nature without arduous searching, and the gametophyte stage of the majority of fern species has never been seen in the wild.

Some fern species have been introduced into tropical or subtropical areas (e.g., southern Florida and Hawaii) and in some cases have become naturalized and have spread into the native forest.

Examples include the giant polypody (Because of their ability to disperse by spores and their capacity to produce both sex organs on the same gametophyte and thus to self-fertilize, it would seem logical to assume that ferns possess higher powers of long-distance dispersal and establishment than do seed plants.

Most of the other families occur in both the tropics and the temperate zones.

Only certain genera are primarily temperate and Arctic (e.g., ) within three years covered 520 square kilometres (200 square miles) of the artificial Lake Kariba (Kariba, Lake) in southern Africa, cutting off light and oxygen and thus killing other plant life and fish.Edible fern crosiers (young leaves with coiled hook-shaped tips) are popular in some areas.The ostrich fern ( nitrogen-fixation (nitrogen fixation)), thus greatly increasing the productivity of rice paddies where the fern occurs.In size alone they range from minute filmy plants only 2 to 3 mm (0.08 to 0.12 inch) tall to huge tree ferns 10 to 25 metres (30 to 80 feet) in height.Some are twining vines; others float on the surface of ponds.Although genetic tests have shown that many, if not most, fern species tend to have an outcrossing breeding system, some other species are involved in the case of ferns with remote disjunctions—separated growing regions.There are interisland and intercontinental disjunctions, east and west, as well as wide north-south disjunctions including species found in the Northern and Southern hemispheres that skip the tropics.Also, many of the species grow as epiphytes (epiphyte) upon the trunks and branches of trees.A number of families are almost exclusively tropical (e.g., Marattiaceae, Gleicheniaceae, Schizaeaceae, Cyatheaceae, Blechnaceae, and Davalliaceae).The greatest economic value of ferns has been in horticulture, with large nurseries supplying millions of plants annually for both indoor decoration and outdoor gardens and landscaping.On the negative side, the poisonous bracken ( A major value of ferns is in biological research, for they have retained a primitive life cycle involving two separate and more or less independent generations, or growth phases, the plants of which are wholly different in many respects.

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