The ferns you find at garden centers or from wholesalers that are labeled as American natives may not be authentic. Researchers from Duke University report that they found falsely-labeled ferns at nurseries in North Carolina, Texas and California. It’s hard to say whether this happened intentionally or accidentally, because ferns aren’t as easy to tell apart as other plant species. The researchers were able to tell the difference using a new technology called “DNA barcoding”:
A team of North Carolina researchers suspected a fern sold in commercial nurseries might not be what the labels said it was, so they took a specimen to the lab to analyze its DNA. When they pasted the DNA sequence of three of the plant’s genes into an online database, they discovered that what had been labeled as Wright’s lip fern (Cheilanthes wrightii), an American native popular in rock gardens and xeriscapes, was in fact a bristle cloak fern (C. distans), a distant relative from Australia.