Saturday, November 22, 2008

A selection of ferns for you.

A selection of ferns for you.

The Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides, 15-18 in.) with rich dark glossy leaves, is one of the sturdiest and most dependable. Last year's fronds are still green as this year's new ones emerge. You can easily recognize the Christmas fern for each pinna is shaped like a long Christmas stocking, foot and all (foot against the stem). Light brown scales also cling to the stalk. One plant for years remains one plant. It spreads by spores alone, not by underground runners or by division of clumps.

The evergreen wood-fern, leather wood-fern or marginal shield fern (Dryopteris marginalise 2-3 ft.) weathers almost any winter and is found among snowy boulders in thickly forested areas. It is common, easy to grow, and spreads very slowly, remaining a single plant for some time. You will recognize this fern by fruit dots located on the margins of the pinnae, the chestnut brown scales on the stems, and its habit in the growing season of erupting its roots several inches up out of the ground!

The common polypody (Polypodium vulgare, 4-10 in.) sends a parade of erect fronds marching across the surface of rocky ledges where they are bright green whether surrounded by snow or by summer. They soften harsh ledges wherever they grow, also cling to steep banks, and make splendid terrarium material.

The ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron, 4-12 in.) is almost evergreen. You can find its twisting turning stem and delicate green pinnae snuggled in any bank of snow along with ground pine and cedar. It takes many hard freezes before this fern finally gives up. It is ideal for terrariums.

Bublet Berries

The berry bladder fern (Cystopteris bulbifera, 2-3 ft.) not only likes rich moist woods but is often found clinging to limestone cliffs. A fine ground-cover for large areas, it spreads rapidly. You will know it by its tapering almost vinelike fronds, but more especially by the tiny bulblets at the base of the pinnae that drop to the ground and sprout (hence the "berry" in its common name). It also bears the more conven¬tional fruit dots.

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum, 3-4 ft.) which has a nice Scotch sound, does thrive in great sweeps in Scotland as well as in almost every country in the world. In England it was the basis of an old time medicine. And in rural areas many a mattress was stuffed with the fronds to prevent rickets! Bracken is an informal fern suitable for casual plantings. It is one of the most adaptable and will grow anywhere—wet, dry, sun, shade, high, low, hot, cold. Where nothing else will live the bracken fern will thrive, and spread furiously. The sporophyll edges curl under, and spore cases are hidden beneath these rolls.

The cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea, 3-5 ft.) is not only one of the loveliest ferns but also one of the easiest to grow. You will know it by the abundance of golden brown wooliness on its unwinding fronds in the spring. Also characteristic are brown wool-like hairs on the stem, a tuft of down at the base of each pinna, and several long slender lovely sporophyll during the summer. The fruiting stalk is a rich cocoa brown, erect and clustered.

The fragile fern or brittle bladder fern (Cystopteris fragilia, 5-18 in.) is not too fragile to grow the world over, even in the frigid areas of Greenland and Alaska. Thus it actually is a robust grower; the brittleness of its stems is responsible for its name. Clinging to shaded rock ledges, it also grows on the ground, and is among the first ferns to start up in the spring.

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