Ferns are the first vascular plants that appeared in the fossil record about 360 million years ago.
Thanks to lignified tissues (the xylem) for conducting water and minerals throughout the plant and non-lignified tissue (the phloem) to conduct products of photosynthesis ferns can grow while more primitive plants like algae and mosses cannot and remain close to the soil and water supply on the ground.
There are more than 13 000 species of ferns. We have many in our forest in the Black Mountain like this tiny northern spleenwort or forked spleenwort (Asplenium septentrionale) you could miss if not looked at with care when it is young and curly.
The other place to go to see many ferns species is New Zealand, we just visited. Around 83 Million years ago, these islands started to separate from Australia forming the Tasman Sea. There, 200 specific species of ferns can be found, among other the terrific fern trees.