Trichomanes elegans

by Chuck Nishihira

The first time that I realized such an incredible filmy fern existed was on a hike up to the top of Cerro Gaital in El Valle, Panama.  The long steep climb was a search for a frog which at that time was known as Minyobates minutus (now Andinobates  minutus).  It was a hike that was sure to end up with a story in the local paper “Silly American Dies Looking for Tiny Frog”  Or “Out of Shape American Get’s Pushed Off Mountain By Irritated Guide”.  What ended up saving me that day was coming upon a small plant of Trichomanes elegans, it’s metallic colors immediately catching my attention.  The leaves were damaged, but it was still beautiful, and it gave me newfound energy to keep hiking in hopes of finding a more complete plant.  I would succeed in completing the hike under my own power, seeing minutus, and finding a nicer plant that day.  On many hikes over the years, this fern was regularly seen and admired.  Always in dark areas, always making their presence known with flashes of metallic blues and greens.

I always tell myself not to, and usually do not, yet somehow I still became a little jaded .  There is always something to be learned from observing plants, even if it is something simple, like placement or positioning.  Things that may be helpful when planting a terrarium.  But still it happens, you see them regularly enough, and the result is you stop seeing them.  How is it even possible to stop acknowledging such a beautiful fern when you come across one?

So on a recent hike at El Cope,  a few plants of T. elegans began showing themselves, growing here and there on the ground as they usually do.  A few nice plants, a few sporelings, not once did it occur to me to take my camera out.  I just kept on hiking looking for plants that I have never seen before. Coming around a bend, it was as if all the T. elegans in that forest got together and let out a concerted “Oh yeah!!”. The sight made me come to a complete stop. For here was the largest, prettiest specimen ever seen!  Well…at least by me. It felt like the first time seeing this species years ago on Gaital.

Because it was such a large plant growing on the bank, the light was hitting the leaves at multiple angles.  The leaves themselves displayed a whole range of metallic greens, blues, and even a little yellow.  As you walked around the specimen the colors would shift. Viewing the plant from the trail, it would be mostly green, looked at from the back, it would mostly be blue.  Just spectacular! I hope that every plant lover would get to see this fern one day. Until then, maybe my photos will help a little.  While it wasn’t possible to get the whole plant into one photo, I tried to capture the feeling and the range of color that it would refract to the viewer.    From now on, I will always show reverence to this amazing fern that helped me climb up Cerro Gaital.