DNA Barcoding Exposes Mislabeled Ferns

DURHAM, N.C., May 6 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve discovered some garden ferns sold at plant nurseries as American natives might actually be species from other nations.

A Duke University-led group of North Carolina researchers said DNA testing of garden ferns sold at plant nurseries in North Carolina, Texas and California uncovered the misrepresentation.

The scientists said they suspected a fern sold in commercial nurseries might not be what the labels said it was, so they took a specimen to a lab and analyzed its DNA. They said they discovered what had been marketed as Wright’s lip fern (Cheilanthes wrightii), an American native, was in fact a bristle cloak fern (C. distans) from Australia.

“It was a 100 percent match,” said study co-author Eric Schuettpelz, a post-doctoral fellow at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, N.C. “Probably 50 percent of the plants I’ve collected from botanical gardens and greenhouses were incorrectly identified.”

Associate Professor Kathleen Pryer, who led the study, said ferns don’t have flowers or fruits to help with identification. And fern species are particularly hard to contain in the close quarters of a greenhouse, where their spores can drift into neighboring pots, she said.

The study that also included Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, N.C., and Michael Windham, curator of vascular plants at the Duke Herbarium, appeared in the April 9 online issue of the journal Molecular Ecology Resources.

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