Fernbushes

A Surprising Plant at the Grand Canyon

What surprising plant clings to the edge of the Grand Canyon, has leaves that look tiny ferns, but is actually rose? It's a fernbush, part of the rose family and not related to ferns at all. It thrives in dry environments like the high desert region of America's amazing landmark, the Grand Canyon. But because it likes such a scenic place, probably many visitors never take their eyes away from the grand view to look at this interesting shrub near their feet.

In fact, I saw much more when I examined my fernbush photos when I was home and not distracted by the beautiful view. The more I looked and learned the more I realized how special this plant is. Each leaf really does look like a miniature fern, a plant I associate more with fog-dripped, dense redwood forests than dry, windswept and rocky deserts. When I did some research, I found that the leaves are evergreen and curl up in winter conditions. I wish I could visit the Grand Canyon in February to observe what is happening with the leaves of this fernbush around Valentine's Day.

The five-petaled rose-like blooms complement the fern leaves. They appear during the summer months and the insects they attract draw chestnut-backed chickadees and nuthatches to the branches. As fall arrives, the blooms dry up into stalks that contain red seeds. I imagine some of these tumbling like tiny pebbles down the canyon to take roots along the Bright Angel Trail that guides hikers to vistas below the rim (a journey that I took with a friend and our daughters to the second tunnel!).

Finding Fernbushes

So even though it can be difficult to look for small close-up things at the Grand Canyon, take a moment to find a fernbush, so recognizable by its unusual leaves. They are apparently quite common at the South Rim; I found one at the native plant garden outside the El Tovar. On just one plant, you can find the decorations of multiple seasons, the red stalks, the leaves, and in summer, some blossoms.