First workshop on fern identification: the strange plants without flowers

A four-day workshop entitled ‘Tropical lycophytes and ferns identification’ was recently organised by Dr Daniele Cicuzza from the Environmental and Life Sciences (ELS) programme of the Faculty of Science. The aim of the workshop was to build local capacity and improve the fern identification skills of UBD staff and students. Ferns are a relatively poorly known group of plants whose absence of flowers and similarity of leaves makes discrimination between species difficult; it is not difficult to see why the layperson might say that ferns ‘all look the same’.


In Brunei, there are over 250 species of ferns, six of which are eaten. Pakis is the most common edible fern, but several others are also utilized locally. Some species, unfortunately, are mildly toxic to humans, and other species are used as ornamental plants leading to overexploitation and removal from the forest. Not surprisingly, Brunei is exceptionally rich in fern and lycophyte species, and little is known about their abundance, distribution and conservation. It is, therefore, crucial to share this knowledge with UBD researchers and students so that they can identify these plants for future research activities, conservation assessment and biodiversity evaluation.


The workshop was conducted at the Institute for Biodiversity and Environmental Research (IBER) in June 2021. From morning to afternoon, 25 families of tropical ferns were described, with theoretical taxonomic lessons as well as practical afternoon sessions to practise species identification. Participants had the opportunity to observe, study and identify over 100 vouchers of ferns species collected in Brunei. This was the first time a workshop on ferns and lycophytes has been organized in Brunei, and it was attended by 12 participants including staff and students from IBER and ELS as well as two international students.


The participants got hands-on opportunities to learn about the high diversity level of lower plants assessed in Brunei Darussalam, and they were able to learn the major taxonomic traits needed to identify the species in the museum and in the field. The workshop was followed by an excursion to the Tasek Lama Recreation Park where the material presented in the lessons was applied in the field.



Dr Daniele Cicuzza (forth from right) leading a specimen identification session during the workshop.




Workshop participants engaged in specimen identification.




The above two images show an exceptional location at the Tasek Lama Recreational Park where a few tree ferns can be found. Cyathea moluccana is a small tree fern that occurs between Borneo and Moluccas. Despite being considered a tree fern, this species is rather a dwarf.




Workshop participants taking a break at Tasek Lama Recreational Park.