Saturday, February 03, 2007

For the Love of Ferns! (and killer moths)

DD One
There are over 12,000 named varieties of ferns world wide. As a hobby, ferns could keep a person busy for a lifetime. Or perhaps you just want something to scare the burglars away. I think one of the Platyceriums – the giant stag horn or elk horn ferns - would fit the bill. Hang it in the entry and make sure it is faintly silhouetted at night. In the darkness it would surely look like a giant man-eating moth and put fear in the most hardened heart. Remember, only you know it’s just a fern!

But burglars aside, ferns are not just so much fluff on a pedestal. They come in an impressive variety of color, shape, size, texture and even scent! Take, for example, Nephrodium fragrans. It is, at first glance, just a green fern with fairly short fronds. Stroke its leaves, however, and you’ll be in love. It has a sweet scent, something akin to violets or soft roses.

Ferns range from the graceful to the bizarre. Some look more like aliens than plants, with weird spiky arms and tentacles. They are lacy, frilly, tufted, spiked and puffed. Their colors range from pink to cream, striped to mottled, variegated, maroon to blue and silver to gold. The individual fronds can look like hearts, coins, leaf lettuce, hands, tongues, fingers and toes. Some plants are shaggy, some look like moss. They creep, climb, grow in rocks, in full sun, in the dark, on rotten wood, in bogs, in high humidity, in dry air and in water. The Sheild Fern, shown above, grows on a mountain side in Seward, Alaska. It's growing on a lump of compost and moss at the edge of a small cave in a hillside made of solid rock. The 'tree' to its left is actually a giant root from a tree growing far above.

The Doodia spp. are short ferns of around 15 inches with dark pinkish red new fronds, turning to dark green when mature. Lygodium palmatum, the ‘American Climbing Fern’ is really gorgeous! It’s a vine with finger-like under leaves and frilly upper leaves and has the distinction of being the first plant in the US to be put on an endangered list in the 1860’s. It is available commercially from selected fern nurseries, but make sure they are legitimate and have permits to grow it. Also make sure you know what you are getting. It’s cousin, Laygodium microphyllum – the ‘Old World Climbing Fern’ has run rampid throughout Florida and is considered one of the most destructive invasive plants in the US, suffocating acres of natural landscape in its wake.

In the mean time, back in your budding fernery, don’t over look these guys. Hymenophyllum tunbrigense , one of the so called ‘Filmy Ferns’ has leaves that are nearly translucent. It’s incredible growing out of hanging balls of damp moss with the light casting a greenish glow through its fronds. The photo of P. Tunbrigense here is from John Crellin whoes spectacular photos can be seem at .

Pyhllitis scolopendrium is an upright fern that looks like a cluster of lizards tongues shooting from underground; complete with curled ends. A native of Hawaii, Trichomanes reniforme looks sort of like a collection of climbing, dark green calla lily flowers. Hymenophylllum australe and H. flabbelatum both like to grow upside down, and lend themselves well to hanging baskets or mossy frames hanging from the ceiling. They are breathtaking in a colony, but need to be kept constantly damp, so are perhaps not for beginners.

Look for a Petris tri-colour. An attractive fern with bright red new growth that changes to bronze and eventually dark green. The mid veins remain red even in maturity. Finally, not to be overlooked are the ‘Lady Ferns’; in fact there are over 200 of them with a wide range of color, size and shape. A nice one to try is Macrophyllum ‘Strawberries and Cream’. It boasts bright pink new fronds on a nearly lime green background and is an impressive 22 inches tall.

One more thing. Growing ferns gives you a great excuse to buy more books! After all, you need to research your new hobby. Books on ferns abound, but not all are that great. Although pricey, the Fern Grower’s Manual by Barbara Joe Hoshizaki and Robbin C. Moran is one I go back to time and time again. Both useful and comprehensive, it provides detailed advice on almost every aspect of these wonderful plants. It costs around 60.00, but is worth every penny! Another great source is Choice Ferns for Amateurs: Their Culture and Management in the Open and Under Glass by, George Schneider. This is an old book that is out of print, but I did a google search and found it online for around 20.00.

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