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Ferniostrum split from its ancestor by adopting a more herbacious growth habit and specializing in open and semi-open spaces in the savanna and veldt of eastern Barlowe. Like its ancestor, it grows 3 broad leaves consisting of a thick midvein and 2 thin membranes. The previous year's semi-desiccated leaves develop gametophytes and seeds, though the seeds are smaller and more numerous and the re-purposed leaves point upward to maximize wind dispersal. During the rainy season, the thin leaf membranes can heal from moderate mechanical and desiccation damage. If leaves are severely damaged, they do not develop seeds the next year. Instead of growing a tall trunk, a thick taproot develops to store nutrients and water for times of drought. Because of this, it is less frequent in wooded riparian habitats where taller flora overtake them. The lifespan is typically 3–4 years.

While phenolic compounds and silica are still produced to discourage herbivory, this species is less toxic than its ancestor and is not competitively aggressive enough to form monocultures when other flora are present. However, its other adaptations allow it to persist in high abundance across most of its range.