This 247.1-acre Designated Urban Wilderness Area takes its name from the abundance of ferns (more than 30 species) found on the property. It was this botanical richness that attracted the interest of scientists from Florida Atlantic University and Broward Community College (now Broward College), who in 1979 published an article called "A Tropical Fern Grotto in Broward County, Florida" in the American Fern Journal. "Vegetation in the area is complex, with swamp forest, hammocks, pinelands, and fallow fields," noted the article. The researchers indicated that they had discovered "over 200 species of plants, and the list grows with each visit," and characterized the site as "the last remaining stronghold of ferns in southeastern Florida." In fact, 10 plant communities have been identified within the nature center, making it one of the finest examples of preserved native plant communities in South Florida. The nature center is also part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
When the nature center opened to the public on November 17, 1985, it marked the culmination of a process that began in 1977. That's when the Land Use Plan mandated the first major stage of an expansion of the county's park system, followed a year later by the voters' approval of a $73 million bond issue to finance that expansioin. In 1979, part of that money went to the Palm Aire Development Corporation, in exchange for most of the land that became Fern Forest. The site was previously known as Cypress Creek Hammock, a nod to its status as a remnant of the Cypress Creek drainage system, authorized in the early 1900s as a way to create more land suitable for farming. The surrounding area had a long history as farmland, dating back to the late 19th century, first for such crops as pineapples, tomatoes, beans, and peppers, and later for dairy farming. Portions of the surrounding area were also home to logging and milling operations in the 1930s.