We’ve been fortunate to grow a huge number of hardy garden ferns through the years, but it’s hard for any to top the amazing Pleopeltis lepidopteris, to which, we’ve given the common name, Brazilian hairy sword fern.
Below is a patch at JLBG, composed of three individual clumps, looking great, despite the ravages of summer. This sun-loving lithophytic (rock grower) also grows fine in well-drained soils. In habitat, it hails from the sandy, acidic coastal (restinga) habitats in southern Brazil (Rio Grande du Sul). Our plants came from our friends at the former Yucca Do Nursery, who made a beach front collection in Brazil in 2012. It doesn’t appear that fern had been in cultivation prior to that time.
The 18″ tall x 2″ wide, rigidly upright fronds emerge covered in thick silver hair, to which I can now relate. As the fronds age, the hair thins and the green leaf surface becomes more visible. Pleopeltis lepidopteris spreads slowly from surface rhizomes. We’ve grown this evergreen Pleopeltis in our rock garden since 2012, where it has thrived even through winter temperatures of 7 degrees F. Hardiness Zone: 7b to 9b, at least.
Many gardeners grow hardy aroids in their garden, ranging from the tiny arisarum to the giant amorphophallus, but few folks have tried members of the genus, Taccarum (tacky-arum). Taccarum is a small genus of only six species, all native to South America. As a nice addition, the flowers have no detectable fragrance.
In our trials, the star of the genus is Taccarum caudatum, a native to Bolivia, Peru, and Northern Brazil. From that region, there should be little possibility of winter hardiness here in Zone 7b, yet after more than a decade in the ground, they don’t just survive—they multiply and thrive.
In most locations we’ve planted them, they top out at 3′ tall, but several clumps we planted at the base of a large pine have now reached 6′ in height. We’ve named the hardy clone we grow, Taccarum caudatum ‘Eruption’.
I’m going to go out and a limb and guess that few people grow Colletia paradoxa…commonly known as anchor plant. Colletia was named to honor French botanist Philibert Collet (1643-1718). I’m not quite sure what we find so fascinating about this botanical oddity, but something causes us to be drawn to a plant with large spines, no leaves and a terrible form. Perhaps it’s the lightly fragrant winter flowers that are just beginning.
Colletia paradoxa hails from scrubby dry hillsides in Southern Brazil and Uruguary, which have yielded so many amazing, well-performing plants for our Zone 7b climate. Bright sun and a baking dry site are the keys to success. Instead of producing leaves, Colletia is clothed with triangular cladodes, similar to plants in the genus Ruscus. Colletia is not related to Ruscus, however, but instead is a member of the buckthorn family, Rhamnaceae. Because colletia is native to nutritionally poor soils, it evolved to fix nitrogen, which is more common in the legume family.
The genus rhodophiala is in a state of flux. Some taxonomists believe the genus actually doesn’t exist and should be merged with rain lilies, while others consider it a perfectly valid genus with 27 species. Oh, the joys of taxonomy. To most gardeners, the genus rhodophiala are simply dwarf hippeastrum (horticultural amaryllis), the most commonly grown of which is the South American Rhodophiala bifida, which ranges natively from Southern Brazil into adjacent Argentina.
Rhodophiala bifida starts flowering for us in mid-August, alongside the emerging foliage. Most Rhodophiala on the market are the clonal Rhodophiala bifida ‘Hill Country Red’, brought to the US by German born Texan botanist, Peter Henry Oberwetter circa 1890. This clone is virtually sterile when grown alone, but will produce viable seed when grown adjacent to another clone.
Below is the clone ‘Hill Country Red’, followed by some of our selected seedlings, all photographed here at JLBG over the last couple of weeks. The best conditions are full sun to light filtered shade, and average moisture to dry soil.
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Harry Hay’ seems to be the only named clonal selection grown in the UK. We imported this during our 2020 UK trip.
Rhodophiala ‘Red Waves’ is our 2nd named selection, not yet introduced
The rest of the clones below are our selected seedlings still under evaluation
Below are two fascinating plants from our breeding. The first is a cross of Rhodophiala bifida x Lycoris longituba. In theory, this bi-generic cross shouldn’t work, but the flower arrangement sure resembles a lycoris more than a rhodophiala.
This cross is of Rhodophiala bifida x Sprekelia formosissima is another impossible bi-generic cross. Notice the three petals are one size, and the other three petals are larger. We’ve never heard of this happening in rhodophiala, so perhaps we’re on to something.
The only other Rhodophiala species, which we’ve had any luck with is the Chilean Rhodophiala chilense. Below are two forms, both of which flowered this spring.
Plant nerds use the term BIO plant, short for Botanical Interest Only, for plants which have little, if any ornamental value, but are highly prized by crazed plant collectors. Spathicarpa hastifolia is such a plant. This odd aroid from Southern Brazil has actually thrived in our woodland garden since 2019. The coldest winter temperatures we’ve experienced in that period is 16 degrees F.
The small woodland plants mature at 1′ tall x 1′ wide, with oddly interesting flowers, which you can see in our image…if you squint. If this continues to perform well, and we can get it propagated, perhaps we’ll have some to share in the future. To quote our friend Bob McCartney, “We have the market cornered on plants for which there is no market.”
Most hardy cactus have the good sense to wait until spring to flower, but not Notocactus haselbergii. This gem, which hails from Southern Brazil, started to bloom the first of March, and will continue on and off most of the summer. It has thrived for several years in our crevice garden.
Our 3-year old clump of Abutilon megapotamicum (flowering maple) is looking particularly splendid this week. Planted in full sun and compost amended soil, it has reached 6′ in height and 10′ in width. When grown in part sun or light shade, both flower production and size is reduced. In mild winters like we’ve had recently, Abutilon megapotamicum will flower for nine months, but in winters where our low temperatures drop into the single digits, it will die back to the ground and re-sprout in spring. Despite the common name, abutilon is not a maple, but instead is a member of the hibiscus family. I can’t imagine a garden without this amazing plant.