By Ben Slattery
Each spring, students organize a celebration in the form of a gardening event that coincides with Earth Week known as Fern Fest. The Drew community congregates to replace a section of campus lawn with a multitude of varying native ferns and wildflowers, encouraging biodiversity and fostering the growth of other parts of the local ecosystem. Sarah Webb, Director of the Restoration Program at Drew, collaborates each year with Special Projects Director Mike Kopas to pick out plant species that will thrive the designated Fern Fest locations. On the mission of Fern Fest, Webb states that her and other members of Drew hope to “restore parts of the natural forest ecosystem by planting native species which can flourish in the conditions which Drew’s campus provides.”
Started in 1998 by graduate student Nicole Roskos, the idea for Fern Fest emerged from the circulation of a petition calling for the reforestation of the Drew campus. With a large numbers of students, staff and faculty members backing the petition, funding from the Drew administration allowed for the creation of what has now become an important Drew tradition. In the two decades since its inception, Fern Fest has organized plantings which have greatly enhanced the richness of our campuses species and ecosystem complexity. What was once just pockets of grasses and weeds has been replaced with over 70 native species, including 40 types of wildflowers, a dozen species of small shrubs and a large proportion of the region’s non-wetland ferns.
For this year’s event, Marginal Wood, Cinnamon, Ostrich and Christmas Ferns were planted along with Wild Indigo and Virginia Bluebell wildflowers. An additional bed of ferns were also added to accommodate the arrival of the new Dixie Wood ferns, which according to Drew’s Campus Sustainability Coordinator Christina Notas, are native to more southern regions compared to the other ferns. For this reason they were isolated into their own plot in order to more closely monitor their growth as newcomers to the Fern Fest family. Despite their status as a new fern, Notas is confident they will be able to thrive in the Forest and is excited to see them become a part of the ever-growing Fern Fest ecosystem.