Hand Fern

Looking lovely in the garden now is the evergreen Chinese hand fern/ribbon fern, Lepisorus palmatopedatus (formerly Neocheiropteris). We’re very excited to try this 1′ tall dwarf in our woodland garden, and would be surprised if this isn’t one of the only in-ground specimens in the US. If not, we’d love to hear who else has tried it. This Chinese endemic, found only in Guizhou province, only occurs in a narrow range between 5,000′ and 9,000′ elevation, so it should have decent winter hardiness. This will be our outdoor winter test, so fingers crossed.

Lepisorus palmatopedatus

Shearing Fern

Athyrium shearei is a fascinating fern, given to us many years ago by fern guru, Dr. John Mickel. We’ve yet to offer it because we’re not sure if anyone would purchase it since some folks may think the dark central veining may look like something is wrong with the plant…which it is not. This deciduous fern native to China, Korea, and Japan makes a slowly spreading patch, and is hardy from Zone 5-8. Mature height is 15-18″ tall. What do you think?

Image of Athyrium shearei with dark central veining.

Microlepia…one of our favorite ferners

We’re always disappointed when great plants don’t sell well enough to continue offering them, and one of our best examples is Microlepia ‘MacFaddeniae’. Below is our clump in the garden this week. This California selection of the Japanese native rigid lace fern forms a lovely, unique clump that stays evergreen until Christmas. Oh well, we sure enjoy it in our garden. Hardiness Zone 7b-10b.

Microlepia strigosa ‘MacFaddeniae’

Green Energy Fern

Our clump of Coniogramme emeiense ‘Green Energy’ is looking fabulous at the end of August. This is one of our selections of bamboo fern we’ve yet to introduce. We love it’s distinctive look, but am not sure if anyone would actually purchase it. What say you? Hardiness Zone 7b – 10b.

Coniogramme emeiense ‘Green Energy’

Time to bring back Resurrection Ferns

One of my favorite plants when I strolled through the woods as a young child was resurrection fern, Pleopeltis michauxiana. If the Latin name sounds unfamiliar, it was originally published in 1939 as a member of a different fern genus, Polypodium polypodioides var. michauxiana. It’s natural distribution range is quite large, from West Virginia south into Central America.

From the time I first saw this fern, nearly 60 years ago, I found it fascinating that this native evergreen fern could grow on both trees and rocks, without being rooted into the ground. Through the years, I’ve tried to cultivate it many times, both in containers and in the garden, failing repeatedly.

Finally in 2004, we took a small piece and glued it to a water oak in the garden using the commercial outdoor adhesive, Liquid Nails. Below is that same plant, almost 20 years later at JLBG. When the weather dries, the clump quickly shrivels and looks dead, only to revive when rain arrives or the garden is irrigated. We’re still trying to figure out how to get this into the nursery, so we can share it more widely.

Pleopeltis michauxiana

Pleopeltis – The Grey-haired Brazilian Sword Fern

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.

Pleopeltis lepidopteris ‘Morro dos Conventos’

Storm Watch

We have long loved the evergreen, tri-lobed, Asian (China, Korea, Japan) epiphytic fern, Pyrrosia hastata. Our favorite clone, pictured below, is one we purchased many years ago from an on-line Japanese plant auction, and subsequently named Pyrrosia ‘Storm Watch’, due to its dark black central leaf vein. Unlike the rhizomatous Pyrrosia lingua, Pyrrosia hastata forms a very tight clump, and is extremely adaptable to growing both epiphytically as well as in the ground, as long as the soil doesn’t stay too moist.

Pyrrosia hastata ‘Storm Watch’

Morphing Aglamorpha

Back in the 1970s, when I was specializing in house plants, one of my favorites was the epiphytic fern genus, Aglamorpha. These staghorn relatives made delightful hanging baskets, despite being far outside the bell curve in regards to recognizability to most gardeners.

Over the years, as I migrated more to hardy perennials, I gave up most of my house plants, but not before trying most of them in the ground. As you can imagine, aglmorphas were a failure, but I never gave up on the idea of finding a winter hardy one.

Fast forward some 40+ years later, I spotted an aglamorpha-like fern in the crowded cold frame at England’s Pan Global Plants. Examining the tag, which read, Drynaria sinica, led me down another rabbit hole, where I discovered that the genus Aglamorpha and Drynaria had recently been joined due to a botanical merger.

In the new group of 30+ species, one, Drynaria sinica, came from an elevation of over 12,000’…a certain sign of potential hardiness. My purchase made it through both the inspection and shipping process, and now thrives in our rock garden, where it sailed though 11 degrees F this winter. Despite a recent name change to Drynaria baronii, we are very excited about this hardy epiphytic fern, and look forward to eventually having some to share.

Drynaria baronii (sinica)

Where are they now? Sparkle deVine revisited

Those who were heavily into gardening in the early 1990s probably remember the micro-mail order nursery, The Wildwood Flower, run by the unique and colorful NC plantsman Thurman Maness. While Thurman’s nursery lasted less than a decade in the mail order realm, his impact in the horticultural world continues though his many plant introductions.

Thurman’s probably best known in the plant world for his lobelia hybrids, as demonstrated by his 1990 catalog which listed 20 different lobelias. We’ve offered a number of Thurman’s lobelia hybrids through the years, including varieties like ‘Rose Beacon’, ‘Ruby Slippers’, and ‘Sparkle deVine’, and still carry one of our personal favorites, Lobelia ‘Monet Moment’.

Thurman was also a very successful fern breeder, and many of our favorite ferns today are some of his hybrids like Athyrium ‘Wildwood Twist’ and I still rank his Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’ as the finest fern hybrid ever created.

Athyrium niponicum ‘Wildwood Twist’
Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’

Thurman’s old catalogs also included little known, but garden worthy natives like Scutellaris serrata and the Federally Endangered Silene catesbiae (polypetala). When I first visited back in the early 1990s, Thurman was running his own tissue culture lab, where he was both producing plants as well as conducting ploidy manipulation for breeding..

So, what’s Thurman doing today. At age 87, he’s still working in his garden and propagating plants, which he occasionally sells on site at his Pittsboro home. He tells me that he’s ramping up production because of the new 400 acre development just a few miles away…he’s determined that they all need hydrangeas.

He also still runs his antique business, now from an antique mall in nearby Siler City. When he goes out on the town, he often does so as his alter ego, Sparkle deVine, as you can see in this recent photo below. JLBG/PDN salutes a brilliant plantsman for a horticultural life well-lived.

Thurman Maness as Sparkle deVine

Fimbriate Maiden

One of the most amazing ferns in our collection is the little-known Chinese Adiantum fimbriatum. Closely allied to the hugely popular Adiantum venustum, the fimbriate maidenhair fern is actually a far better grower in our hot, humid climate, despite coming from elevations from 9,000-12,000′.

Very Wet behind the Ears

Despite the impending flooding late last week, Patrick, Zac, and I took off to the mountains of western South Carolina for a few days of botanizing. Despite the monsoon-like rains, we managed to visit seven amazing sites. Below is a highlight.

One stop was at a giant granitic outcrop. The rocks are covered in an array of mosses, lichens, and other associated flora, most growing in shallow pockets or organic debris that alternation from inundated to bone dry for months.

Large patches are covered with the colorful, 1″ tall, annual sedum, Diamorpha smallii, commonly known as Elf orpine.

Diamorpha smallii

Another site also had large granite flatrocks, but with a complete different flora. Here, two dryland ferns, Cheilanthes lanosa and Cheilanthes tomentosa formed large patches, along with the amazing Selaginella tortipila.

Cheilanthes lanosa
Cheilanthes tomentosa
Selaginella tortipila

The more shaded slopes were filled with amazing clones of the dwarf painted buckeye, Aesculus sylvatica, which at this site, mature at only 3-5′ in height. In most other area, the same species matures at 10-20′ tall. The flower colors here ranged from peachy yellow to screaming orange red.

Aesculus sylvatica dwarf forms

One of our next stops was an amazing watershed where, Shortia galacifolia grows by the acre, carpeting the mountain side. This is the world’s largest population of this amazing native. We even found it growing epiphytically on a rock, perched in the middle of a stream.

Shortia galacifolia
Shortia galacifolia

The native Micranthes micranthidifolia grew along the moist stream banks. This is the first time I’ve seen this, since I first purchased the plant back in 1995 from the former We-Du Nursery. In that case, I killed it, before getting it planted.

Micranthes micranthidifolia

Another plant I’ve killed in my previous attempt was the native climbing fern, Lygodium palmatum. Here, it grew with the easy-to-grow Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides.

Lygodium palmatum

The difficult to grow Asarum heterophyllum was scattered throughout our several mile trek, almost all plants were the solid green leaf form.

Asarum heterophyllum

Far easier to grow is the native Hydrangea radiata (formerly known as H. arborescens var. radiata), with its shimmering white-backed leaves.

Hydrangea radiata

As we walked along the towering cliffs, the red fruit adorning the carpets of partridge berry, Mitchella repens glistened in the rain.

Mitchella repens

Several patches of mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum had some of the largest foliage that I’d ever seen, measuring 1′ in width.

Podophyllum peltatum

Not far away we saw some of the most strikingly patterned form of Pachysandra procumbens we’ve ever seen.

Pachysandra procumbens

We almost got through the entire trip without finding a single variegated or colored foliage mutant, when not far from the parking area, we spotted a streak sport on Kalmia latifolia.

Kalmia latifolia streaked branch

Below is our incredible, but soaking wet, botanizing team (l-r) Adam Black, Bartlett Arboretum, Zac Hill, JLBG, Patrick McMillan, JLBG.

Stick out your tongue fern and say, Ah-ha

We’re several years into an experiment to see how well the epiphytic (grow mostly on trees) tongue ferns of the genus Pyrrosia fare in hanging, moss-lined baskets when left outdoors all year. This is our coldest winter to date since the test began, with a low of 11 degrees F. Here is a photo of one of those baskets taken today. They were not protected in any way during the cold. We have 17 clones on trial in this manner, and some do show a bit of foliar damage, while others are untouched. We think it’s quite amazing to have evergreen hanging baskets of live plants that can remain outdoors here in Zone 7b.

Pyrrosia lingua ‘Kaeru Tei’

Pretty Kinki

The Dryopteris kinkiensis is still looking fabulous in the garden as we inch closer to spring. This little-known Chinese native fern was first brought into the country as spore by plantsman Hans Hansen in 2005. It is also native to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. The name was originally published for the material in Japan, named after the Kinki region. The foliage is a very glossy dark green with a nearly plastic texture. We estimate hardiness to be zone 7a-9b, but we could be greatly underestimating its potential in that regard.

Dryopteris kinkiensis

Ostrich Feathers in Winter

Although the native Ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris ‘The King’, goes winter dormant, the fertile fronds remain upright and attractive all winter. Here, we have it growing among the evergreen Solomon’s Seal, Disporopsis pernyi. This site is quite dry, compared to it’s normal habitat of wet swamps.

The fertile fronds of our native ostrich fern remain attractive during the winter, even when the plant is dormant.
Matteuccia struthiopteris ‘The King’

At the Coast with Holly

The typical holly fern, Cyrtomium falcatum, is considered fairly reliable in Zone 7b, but no further north. The oddball is the coastal form, which grows on the coast of both Japan and Korea. We received the plant shown below in 2005, as Cyrtomium falcatum var. maritimum, which our taxonomy staff tells me, isn’t a valid name. According to Patrick and Zac, the Japanese coastal material is correctly called Cyrtomium falcatum var. littorale, but there is no mention in the literature they’ve reviewed of the same coastal form occurring off Korea.

Other than the dwarf size, which is often seen in plants that grow in harsh coastal conditions, these weather-battered denizens adapt by developing thicker leaves and a denser habit. Additionally, this form is significantly more winter hardy than the typical material of Cyrtomium falcatum seen in the trade. We’ve always listed this dwarf form as a Zone 7a plant, but we wouldn’t be surprised at all if it’s also hardy in Zone 6. If you’ve been adventurous enough to try it, we’d love to hear from you. Our mature clumps below, photographed over Christmas, are now 8″ tall x 18″ wide.

Crytomium falcatum ‘Eco Korean Jade’

Genetics Matter

We have long been enamored by the elegant, evergreen fern, Polystichum neolobatum, but have failed countless times with the commonly sold material in the horticultural trade. It was not until we grew spores from a Hans Hansen Chinese collection from 7,000′ elevation in China’s Sichuan province that we met with success. Below is a specimen from that trip, taken here at JLBG last week.

As is the case with so many commercially sold plants, their origin is lost. While the commercial material of Polystichum neolobatum may be fine in the cool temperatures of the Pacific Northwest, that is simply not the case here in the hot, humid Southeastern US. This species has a wide native range from the Himalayas all the way to Taiwan, where it can be found from 4,000′ elevation to 10,000′ elevation. Both elevation and origin location matter when determining the adaptability of many plants. We are finally getting good spore set, and hope to be able to make this form available through Plant Delights in the near future.

Polystichum neolobatum ‘YuWa’

The Little Asparagus that Could

In 2006, NC plantsman, and our long time customer, Graham Ray of Greensboro, emailed to see if we were interested in a dwarf Asaparagus densiflorus (Sprengeri) fern that he grew in his rock garden, and had been winter hardy for several years in his Zone 7a garden.

We had already worked with several asparagus species for years, and have a great fondness for the ornamental potential of the genus, so of course, we jumped at the opportunity. We were perplexed, however, how a dwarf version of the marginally hardy Asparagus densiflorus could have survived in Greensboro, which is a 1/2 zone colder than our garden south of Raleigh.

Despite our skepticism, we planted our new treasure in fall 2006, which thrived here, despite our winter hardiness concerns, not blinking during three upcoming single digit F winters. A few years later, we sent a plant to our friend Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens in Michigan for further testing. Despite their winter temperatures well below 0F with no snow cover, it thrived there also. What was going on, we wondered, since this simply shouldn’t be possible.

A mature plant of the dwarf asparagus fern, 'Graham's Cracker' growing in our rock garden.
Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’

Our mystery was finally resolved this summer when taxonomy researchers from the University of Georgia, working on the phylogeny of the genus Asparagus, learned of our extensive collection of Asparagus species, and came by to take samples for their research. This fall, we got word that our dwarf plant which we had named Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’, was in fact not a selection of the common hanging basket species, Asparagus densiflorus, but was instead a seedling of the Zone 4 hardy Asparagus cochinchinensis.

As we re-traced the plants origin, it turned out that Graham had purchased the plant here at Plant Delights, as a dwarf seedling he found in one of our sale house flats, which our staff had failed to notice.

Above is a photo of a mature plant of Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’ at JLBG, which has finally reached a whopping 15″ in height…a perfect plant for the rock garden or in larger bedding schemes. Like the species, the fall foliage is a brilliant gold.

Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’ in fall

And here’s mama, Asparagus cochinchinensis ‘Chuwang’.

Asparagus cochinchinensis ‘Chuwang’

Dry-opteris on a Wet, Rainy Day – New Relevations

The cold and raw weather of late autumn and winter provide the perfect opportunity to sit down with the dissecting scope and put our ferns through the identification mill. Often gardens and nurseries receive a plant into their collections from an exporter or collector who has put their best guess on the identification. After many years in cultivation, we realize what we thought was the right species name for our specimens is incorrect. Today’s nasty weather provided the opportunity to examine, in detail, one of our favorite evergreen fern groups – Dryopteris section Variae.

These firm-leaved evergreens produce thick-textured, durable, medium-sized fronds of varying shape but all display a noticeably longer basioscopic pinnule (that’s fancy talk for the lowest, innermost segments of the divided leaves).  All members of the section that we have grown have proven to be very adaptable to our hot, humid summers and unpredictable winters if grown in shade or partial shade in moist woodland garden conditions. The fronds tend to burn if they receive too much light. They are late risers in the spring often not producing a new flush of leaves until late spring or even early summer.

At the beginning of the day, we started with 8 accessions of Dryopteris varia, 2 accessions of Dryopteris bissetiana, 6 accessions of Dryopteris formosana, one accession of Dryopteris saxifraga and a couple of unknowns. From these numbers you would expect that the one plant we would know best would be Dryopteris varia.

Dryopteris bissetiana comparison

Well…it turns out all the plants we had received or had identified as D. varia were actually representative of other taxa. If you’ve never tried keying ferns using The Flora of China or The Ferns and Fern Allies of Taiwan, you would have no idea just how difficult a process this is. The floras of these areas are notoriously difficult to use and often contradictory or difficult to assess using illustrations or pictures (yes even plant taxonomists google names to find images). Very quickly we became intimately familiar with the nature of the stipe and rachis scales, frond outlines, and disposition of the vestiture (yeah you think that sounds easy, right?).

We found most of our collection was actually composed of Dryopteris bissetiana, which are mostly from collectors who sent us tentatively identified wild-collected material. The majority of these were from Sichuan in China, however one very beautiful, deep green and glossy selection that is only half the size or less of the others was Tony’s collection in Korea, and has tentatively been identified as Dryopteris saxifraga. All of these are remarkable garden plants, but we are very excited to some day offer the choice dwarf from Korea which we have named ‘Cheju Dwarf.’

Dryopteris bissetiana commercial clone
Dryopteris bissetiana CSC009008 (Darrell Probst collection)

It was a pleasant surprise to find that our collections of Dryopteris formosana were correctly labelled, but we weren’t prepared for there to be two distinctly different looking plants represented in our garden that are the same species.

One of these is the plant that has been shared among fern enthusiasts for some time that is the typical sexually reproducing diploid. The other is an apogamous triploid that looks like a completely different species. In a diploid (like you and I) the pairs of chromosomes uncouple and one copy of each goes into making the male and female gametes.

Dryopteris formosana forms

Thus, each gamete has only one set of each chromosome (haploid) and when combined with those from the complementing sperm or egg results in another diploid. Plants sometimes have a mistake in their cells that lead to the production of gametes with twice as many chromosomes as they would normally have and when such tetraploid plants breed with a diploid the result is a gamete with 2 copies of each chromosome combining with a gamete with only one—thus triploid. In your average plant this triploid is a dead end for reproduction by seed or spore because they have an uneven base number 3—which can’t be divided into an equal number of chromosomes, so it is sterile.

Dryopteris formosana comparison diploid left triploid right

This triploid avoids the curse of having an uneven number of chromosome pairs by avoiding sexual reproduction and producing spores that will result in new plants without the traditional interplay of sperm and egg on a germinated gametophyte (yes apogamy in ferns is still legal in all states and countries). We were puzzled when two very different looking ferns keyed to the same species. Everything that was in the key matched. The bullate hairs, the shape, the color, the basioscopic pinnae and the overall shape.

Our taxonomist, Zac Hill, very quickly uncovered a recent paper by Kiyotaka Hori, et al (2017) which explained and beautifully illustrated our conundrum. The triploid produces a wider, far more pentagonal frond with a less erect nature in the way the blade is held, and a deeper green, highly pleasing color—now that’s pretty darn cool! This new discovery we have named ‘Yushan 2 X 4.’ A new plant for us all to grow in the years to come and now you know why we chose the name diploid (2) X tetraploid (4).

Dryopteris formosana triploid

Now that we realize we grow seven different forms of Dryopteris bisettiana, each collection will be given a cultivar name, which will refer back to their specific origin and uniqueness.

Every day brings discovery when you manage a collection of 30,000 taxa but one thing we know for sure, these are amazing, well-behaved, slow growing woodland plants that are the essence of what makes Juniper Level Botanic Garden so amazing.

Patrick McMillan, director of horticulture and gardens

Literature cited:

Hori, Kiyotaka, L. Kuo, W. Chiou, A. Ebihara and N. Murakami. 2017. Geographical distribution of sexual and apogamous types of Dryopteris formosana and Dryopteris varia (Dryopteridaceae) in Taiwan. Acta Phytotax. Geobot. 68 (1): 23-32.

You’re so Vein…Anastomosing, that is

Nurses and plant taxonomists are among the few fields in which you would run into the term, anastomosing veins. Having been in the plant world all my life, I had never even run into the term until trying to key our some bamboo ferns in the genus, Coniogramme, almost a decade ago. It turns out that to distinguish between species, you need to determine if the spore patterns on the back of the leaf have an anastomosing or parallel vein pattern. Anastomosing veins are those which diverge and reconnect forming a pattern like a snake skin. We’ve grown quite a few ferns, but none have the amazing vein patterns of coniogramme. Below are the leaf backs of Coniogramme japonica in fall.

Coniogramme japonica - spore pattern on leaf back
Coniogramme japonica – spore pattern on leaf back
Close up of Coniogramme japonica showing anastomosing veins
Coniogramme japonica – spore pattern close up

Wooly-lipped Ferner

Looking great this week are most of the desert ferns, especially the wonderful Cheilanthes tomentosa. So many folks still don’t realize that an entire group of ferns grow naturally in desert conditions, often alongside cactus. This fern favorite has a shockingly large and unusual distribution, from Arizona east to Virginia. We’re fascinated why this evergreen fern known as Wooly lip fern, isn’t more widely grown. Hardiness is Zone 6a-8b, at least.

Cheilanthes tomentosa thriving in our rock garden
Cheilanthes tomentosa

Jurrasic Fern

The amazing Chinese native Pronephrium penangianum ‘Jurassic Park’ is looking fabulous in the garden this week. This large growing, spreading fern has the feeling of a plant from the time when dinosaurs roamed. We continue to make cool, but little-known ferns like this available to a wider audience. Hardiness is Zone 7b-9a at least.

Pronephrium penangianum 'Jurassic Park'
Pronephrium penangianum ‘Jurassic Park’

Soaring Microsorum

One of our most amazing dwarf ferns is our 2008 Taiwanese spore collection of Microsorum brachylepis ‘Datun’. Our garden patch pictured below, which is looking great this month, was planted outdoors in 2017, and is now 4″ tall x 3′ wide. We offered this personal favorite a few years through Plant Delights, but the sales were rather miserable…what a shame. This delightful evergreen makes a superb, dense groundcover. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.

Microsorum brachylepis 'Datun'
Microsorum brachylepis ‘Datun’

Contiguous Cat’s Claw Fern

One of our favorite hardy garden ferns are the amazing cat’s claw ferns of the genus Onychium. The genus comprises between 9 and 23 species, depending on your choice of taxonomist.

The most common species in cultivation is the Japanese Cat’s claw fern, Onychium japonicum, which we’ve had the pleasure of offering many times through the year. Now, we’re working on getting another species into production, Onychium contiguum. Compared to Onychium japonicum, Onychium contiguum is much smaller and slower-growing with even finer cutleaf foliage. We picked up this Elizabeth Strangman wild collection during a 1994 trip to England’s former Washfield Nursery. Below is our original clump in the garden this week.

Onychium contiguum 'Washfield', a contiguous cat's claw fern
Onychium contiguum ‘Washfield’

Bermuda Run

Adiantum capillus-veneris ‘Bermuda Run’ is looking exceptional in the garden this fall. Actually, it looks exceptional most of the year for us. Until the temperatures drop below 12 degrees F, this amazing fern remains evergreen. This fern has a huge native range, being found on every continent except Antarctica.

Adiantum capillus-veneris, along with a couple of pteris fern species are often found growing in mortar cracks in many of the Southeast coastal cities and adjacent tropical islands. It is thought that some of these populations may have been spread along the early trade routes. This particularly dense form is our collection from the mortar walls on Bermuda. The same species is native to North Carolina, but only in a solitary population. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.

Adiantum capillus-veneris Bermuda Run
Adiantum capillus-veneris ‘Bermuda Run’

Another ferner

Looking particularly lovely in the garden is the elegant fern, Dryopteris affinis ssp. affinis. The semi-evergreen golden-scaled male fern from Europe is among the easiest and most beautiful ferns we grow, yet when we offer it through the nursery, it’s always one of the worst sellers. We struggle to figure out mysteries like this when you have a fern that grows equally as well in acid or alkaline soils, and grows the same in the Pacific Northwest as it does the hot, humid Southeast US. Winter hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.

 Dryopteris affinis ssp. affinis - Golden Scaled Male Fern in the woodland garden

Randy Ferns

It’s not unusual for ferns to have sex in the wild, even with other species in the same genus. It is, however, unusual for them to have meaningful sex with ferns of an entirely different genus. Such an odd occurrence recently happened in the greenhouses of Louisiana’s James Georgusis.

One night, possibly after a wild Mardi Gras party, a willing Phlebodium got it on with a crested tongue fern of the genus Pyrrosia. The result was a new genus of fern, x Phlebosia. It was adopted and given the cultivar name, ‘Nicolas Diamond’. At least the parents had the good sense to sexually stay within the same family, Polypodiaceae

We planted our first specimens in the garden this February, and so far, it’s growing well. The key will be to see how much winter hardiness it has…fingers crossed. Both parents are pictured below the new hybrid.

x Phlebosia ‘Nicolas Diamond’ PP 30,873
Phlebodium pseudoaureum
Pyrrosia lingua crested

Summer Textured Ferners

Here’s a fun textural image from the woodland garden, featuring Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’, Farfugium japonicum ‘Aureomaculatum’, and Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’. Off to the left side are three more ferns, Dryopteris x celsa, Adiantum capillus-veneris, and Ctenitis subglandulosa.

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey', Farfugium japonicum 'Aureomaculatum', and Athyrium 'Ocean's Fury' and ferns - Dryopteris x celsa, Adiantum capillus-veneris, and Ctenitis subglandulosa
Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’, Farfugium japonicum ‘Aureomaculatum’, and Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’

Pteris on the Terrace

We’ve long loved the fern genus, Pteris (pronounced terrace), but struggled for years to find any that were winter hardy here in Zone 7b. That changed with our 1996 Chinese expedition to Yunnan Province, and later a subsequent expedition by gardening friends to Sichuan Province. On both trips, high elevation collections of Pteris vittata were made that were much more cold hardy than anything from previous introductions. Both introductions have thrive here since the late 1990s. What we also love is that these ferns thrive in full, baking sun. Even now, in mid-July, these ferns look absolutely amazing in the gardens. Plant Delights currently has one of these amazing selections for sale. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.

Christmas in June

While doing some local botanizing recently, we ran across this fascinating form of our native Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides. Not only was it more compact than any others in the area, with more “orderly” fronds, but it also showed none of the typical terminal spore production that would be expected this time of year. Since this was from a future development site, the plant was rescued, and is now at JLBG under evaluation. The second photo is more typical plant for the species for comparison, growing at JLBG.

The King Ostrich

One of the most Jurrasic-looking plants we grow is the North American native Ostrich fern. If you moved here from “up north” and brought some of this fern with you, chances are it failed miserably. As a rule, Ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, hates our summer temperatures.

Fortunately, back in the mid-1980s, retired UNC-Charlotte botany professor, Larry Mellichamp picked up a heat tolerant form from Powell’s Nursery in Princeton, NC, which he promptly introduced into the trade as Matteuccia ‘The King’. Without this incredible introduction, gardens in south would not have this amazing fern in their gardens.

This is a spreading fern that prefers average to wet soils, so allow plenty of room for it to spread. Below is a patch thriving at JLBG.

Fury of the Ocean

One of our favorite ferns is the Lady fern hybrid, Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’. Created in Pittsboro, NC by plantsman Thurman Maness, this patented gem was offered for years through wholesale channels, but sales were not strong enough, so the sole producer discontinued it. So often, great patented plants suddenly become unavailable if sales don’t warrant.

In Europe, any grower can petition the PVR office to request permission to propagate such protected plants, but no such program exists in the US. Fortunately, Thurman has generously granted us permission to propagate his amazing introduction and make it available. That said, division is a very slow way to make ferns available, but since this hybrid between Athyrium filix-femina and Athyrium nipponicum is sterile, it’s our only option.

Athyrium 'Ocean's Fury' at JLGB
Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’

Colors and Textures

Here’s a recent image from JLBG, giving an idea of what’s possible when being thoughtful of textures and colors when planting. Plants include Iris x hollandica ‘Red Ember’, Heuchera ‘Silver Scrolls’, Carex ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, Thelypteris kunthii, and Juniperus chinensis ‘Parsonii’.

Those tricky plant names

Looking good in the garden this week is the amazing fern, Dryopteris x australis. This rare fern is a US native…despite the confusing name, hailing from only a few scattered locations from Virginia west to Arkansas. In reality, the name “australis” means from the south. This splendid specimen grows in both sun and shade, and tolerates both wet and dry soils. Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.

Holy Holly Fern

Looking great in the JLBG gardens is the amazing Cyrtomium fortunei ‘China Ruffles’. This superb spore strain is from an original introduction by Michigan plantsman, Hans Hansen, who made the spore collection in 2003 in Sichuan, China. Hardiness is Zone 6-9.

Mama…where do fern babies come from?

If you’re a nursery, and you’d like to offer ferns, the plants at your disposal are somewhat limited. A large majority of ferns sold in America are still sadly dug from the wild. When you see a catalog listing primarily these ferns together…usually an very inexpensive prices, you can be pretty much assured they were dug from the wild: Osmunda regalis (royal fern), Osmunda cinnamomea (Cinnamon Fern), Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas Fern), Matteuccia Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich fern), Adiantum pedatum (Maidenhair fern), Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern), and Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern). These ferns are often sold bareroot, to save the nursery the expense of having to pot the collected plants, many of which are so large, they won’t fit in small containers.

The other majority of ferns in the market are produced by tissue culture, either by a couple of labs in Florida, one in Texas, and one in Holland. Without the amazing work of these labs, the fern selections available to homeowners would be limited to the wild collections. Even with their amazing work, these labs must focus on well-known ferns that sell in very large numbers.

While we make use of the lab offerings, we also made a commitment over 30 years ago to grow many of our own ferns from spores. Outside of a few small fern specialists, there are few nurseries who grow their own ferns from spores, since this is the most costly and time consuming option. The reason we do this is so that we can offer fern species and selected forms that are otherwise unavailable.

Below is a quick summary of how the process works. Fern spores (fern equivalents of seed) are collected through the summer, and are dried in paper envelopes until they separate from the foliage. They are then sown in pots with potting soil that is sterilized here, and then sealed in ziploc bags. The spore takes from 1 month to 6 months to germinate. Once the spores germinate, they are ready to have sex…a process that is reversed from more modern evolved flowering plants.

To assist the ferns have sex, we gently add water to the newly germinated sporelings, since ferns (other than desert ferns) only have sex while they are swimming. The water is swirled around to mimic the feel of a whirlpool, then the bags are then resealed, and put in the dark where they are subjected to a near constant montage of Barry White music.

Within a few weeks, tiny fern fronds begin to emerge. At this point, the ziploc bags are opened to allow the humidity to equalize with the ambient air. After another couple of weeks the pots are removed from the ziploc bags. If the spore were viable and cleaned well without contamination, and if germination was good, there will be up to several hundred plants per pot.

After a few weeks, the sporelings are transplanted into a cell pack flat. Here they grow out for another few months until they are ready to be planted into our 1 qt. pots, in which they will be sold. In all, it’s about an 18 month process, and a good bit of labor. We’re really quite passionate about our fern collection at JLBG, which the visiting British Fern Society declared one of the largest/most diverse in the world. We hope you find the results worthwhile.

Sakhalin Fern

The dainty rock garden fern, Woodsia polystichoides has just emerged in the garden. The spores for this were shared by one of our Russian gardening friends from his collection on the Sakhalin Islands. For those who don’t follow history, the Sakhalin Islands were another of Russia’s many conquests, this from a 2 week war with Japan in 1945, when neither country was behaving neighborly. What a shame that countries aren’t run by gardeners. Hardiness is Zone 4-7b.

Woodsia polystichoides

Finally, a ferner adapts

Since ferns are one of the groups on which we focus our ex-situ conservation efforts, we have collected a huge number of species and selections from around the world. One that has continually frustrated us is the miniature rock fern, Asplenium trichomanes. Although this small gem is native to every continent except Antartica, we have struggled to keep it alive.

In our travels, we have collected it from Europe to Africa, but have also managed to kill all of those collections in the garden. Since our first attempt in 2004, we have now killed Asplenium trichomanes 16 times. We believe, however, in the late JC Raulston’s mantra, “Unless you are killing plants, you aren’t growing as a gardener.” The key is how many times do you continue to try before giving up?

We’re pretty stubborn as long as we feel we keep learning from each failure. Our latest accession of this species, which came as spores from Russia’s south coast, is actually thriving in our crevice garden, where the pH is north of 8.0. It seems that the crevice habitat is the answer.

Lithophytes, epiphytes, tigers, and bears…oh my

Just out in the garden in early January and wanted to share photos of a few of our favorite evergreen ferns that would rather not be growing in the ground. In our garden, these are all growing within a few feet of each other.

Each of these ferns are epiphytes, which grow attached to a tree, or lithophytes, which grow attached to a rock. None of these ferns actually need soil to grow, since they get their food and water from the atmosphere and accumulated organic debris. Epiphytes, however, don’t get nutrients from their host plant…only physical support.

All epiphytic ferns thrive in hanging baskets, especially the spaghnum-lined type, since this most closely mimics their natural preferences. In our case, we are a bit colder than their native haunts, so for us, we force these ferns to reside in the ground since that gives them a bit more protection during severe winter temperatures. The key for epiphytes to survive in the ground is to have very loose, organic soils and always plant them on a steep slope.

Neolepisorus fortunei ‘Green Ribbons’ is our 2017 introduction of a Chinese native epiphytic fern.

Neolepisorus fortunei ‘Green Ribbons’

Pyrrosia lingua ‘Hiryu’ is also an epiphytic fern, native to Japan.

Pyrrosia lingua ‘Hiryu’

Lastly is Polypodium vulgare ‘Ulleung Island’. Instead of being an epiphyte, this evergreen fern is a lithophyte. Lithophytes are classified as either epilithic (growing across the rock surface) or endolithic (growing in cracks or crevices). Since we found this in the wild, growing across the surface of a giant rock, this fern is an epilithic lithophyte…say that three times fast. This is our 1997 collection from an island, far off the coast of South Korea.

We hope you’ll explore these unique ferns in your garden.

Polypodium vulgare ‘Ulleung Island’

Garden hookups

We always love it when unexpected garden hookups yield unexpected results, and such was the case recently when, under the cover of darkness, two of our holly ferns took a liking to each other. The result of this conjugal interlude is our first hybrid of Cyrtomium fortunei x Cyrtomium falcatum, that we’ve named Cyrtomium x fortatum Spornication. The habit of the hybrid is intermediate between both parents. Now, we’ve just got to figure out how to get it propagated in order to share.

Cyrtomium x fortatum Spornication

Mr. Butterfield’s Fern

We love the evergreen holly fern in all it’s species and forms. Cyrtomium falcatum ‘Butterfieldii’ is looking absolutely stupendous in the garden this month. This easy to grow shade lover glistens all winter with its glossy foliage with fancy serrated edges. Hardiness is Zone 7a-8b.

Meet Ctenitis

We love the tardily deciduous Ctenitis subglandulosa ‘Hoshizaki’, which remains looking great in the garden as we pass the winter solstice. This truly elegant fern came to us from fern guru, Judith Jones, who got it from California fern guru, Barbara Jo Hoshizaki. The airy texture and ease of growth make this a fern we wouldn’t garden without. Sadly, we offered this Asian native (Bhutan through China) once through Plant Delights and very few people purchased one, so we had to discard the remaining crop…ouch! So very sorry you missed a true gem. Hardiness is Zone 7a-8b (guessing).

Mama Mia…that’s a lotta ferns

We love fall and winter, when Woodwardia orientalis ‘Mama Mia’ starts producing baby ferns on the old foliage. Mama Mia can be propagated from the plantlets, but in our cold winter climate, the babies rarely mature unless taken indoors for the winter. The evergreen foliage of Woodwardia orientalis will show damage at about 10 degrees F and Zone 7b is the northern-most range of its cold hardiness.

A Rolling Stone gathers no moss, but a stationary stone…

Indeed the old proverb about a rolling stone is correct, but a stationary stone, especially in the water, gathers all kinds of amazing things. This rock in one of our garden streams has not only gathered moss, but several young maple trees, a carex, a couple of sanguinaria (bloodroot), and a handful of various ferns. Isn’t nature just grand if you stop long enough to pay attention.

Bamboo Ferns

Another genus of ferns that we just adore are the bamboo ferns of the genus coniogramme. We’ve grown these amazing gems for two decades, and after all that time are still in love. Although these woodland ferns are deciduous, they are tardily so, so they still look quite fresh into mid-November. Here are a couple of favorites, photographed this week.

At the top is the texturally fascinating Coniogramme intermedia ‘Shishi’ from Japan, and below this is our 2006 introduction of the Chinense native Coniogramme emeiensis ‘Golden Zebra’. We rate both of these as winter hardy from Zone 7b and warmer.

Coniogramme intermedia ‘Shishi’
Coniogramme emeiensis ‘Golden Zebra’

Leaping Lepisorus

We love ferns of all types, but especially the single-leaf types. Our clump of the Chinese Lepisorus macrosphaerus really stands out in the fall and winter garden. In the wild, most lepisorus grow on rocks or tree trunks, but most we’ve grown have adapted well to growing in the soil. They tend to thrive better when growing on slopes, and in well-drained soils.

Lepisorus macrosphaerus

Zig Zag Fern

One of our favorite of the US native (Central Texas) desert ferns is Pellaea ovata. Here is our clump in the crevice garden looking quite nice this week. This is scheduled to return to the Plant Delights catalog in January. Hardiness should be at least Zone 7b and south.

Who put the Kunth in Kunthii?

Looking superb this week is our great native fern, Thelypteris kunthii (southern shield fern) So what is a kunth? In fact, this fern gets its name from German taxonomist, Carl Sigismund Kunth (1788 – 1850). Kunth was one of the first people to categorize North American plants, mostly from the collections of  German botanists, Humboldt and Bonpland. Thelypteris kunthii was named in his honor in 1967, long after Kunth’s death, by American botanist Conrad Morton (1905-1972). In our gardens, it thrives in both light shade and full sun…an amazing plant.

Similar Spider Fern

We’ve been growing the Chinese Arachnioides simulans, the similar spider fern, for over a decade, in which time, it’s proven a superb performer. Here’s a photo from the gardens this week. Finally, this spring, we got around to sowing spore, in the hope we can make this available soon though Plant Delights Nursery…fingers crossed for next year.

Silver Moon Fern

We don’t know how many of you have noticed this in the JLBG garden during open house, but this special gem is from a Chinese spore collection by JC Raulston Arboretum director, Mark Weathington. Now that it’s large enough, we have sown spores so we can work with JCRA to introduce this gem to the public.

Polystichum luctosum ‘Silver Moon’

Holy Giant Holly Fern

Cyrtomium macrophyllum is looking particularly fabulous this year. This is a little-grown holly fern with a wide range from India to Southeastern China that can be found at elevations from 2,500-8,000′. The bold textured fronds arch outward to make a 2′ tall x 2′ wide clump that is semi-evergreen in most winters. It seems as if we will get good spore set this year, which may mean another offering since the last time PDN had it to share in 2003.

Celebrate Plasticity

We live in an age where many plastic products are vilified, but every now and then, we find a reason to embrace the texture of plastic. Such was the case in 2008, when we visited The Missouri Botanic Garden. Walking through one of their greenhouse, I spotted an odd holly fern, planted in the middle of a large mass of Cyrtomium falcatum. The foliage appeared much thicker and more glossy than any of the other plants. The staff was kind enough to share a piece, which we subsequently named Cyrtomium ‘Plasticity’. We theorize it is probably a ploidy mutant with an extra set of chromosomes that would account for the extra thickness and glossiness. Here is a photo from the gardens this week, where it has become a favorite.

Upside down Spider Fern

Arachnioides standishii is one of our favorite garden ferns. This particular collection comes from Japan’s Mt. Daisen. The common name is Upside down fern since the leaves appear to be attached inverted. Production is always challenging since spore don’t ripen until after Christmas. The foliage remains evergreen until temps drop below 10 degrees F. Hardiness is Zone 4-8.

Celebrating Ferners

One of the fabulous ferns in our garden during the summer months is the sun-tolerant Dennstaedtia hirsuta ‘Sohuksan’. This fabulous specimen came to the US from a 1985 collection from Sohuksan Island, South Korea, where it was discovered by a team of intrepid plant explorers that included horticultural legends as Barry Yinger, the late Ted Dudley, the late J.C. Raulston, the late Peter Wharton, Young-june Chang and Kun-so Kim. The group had left the mainland for the several day ferry ride to this remote island, landing just ahead of a typhoon, which resulted in severe injuries disembarking from the ferry. After riding out the typhoon in minimal shelters, they awoke to a treasure trove of amazing plants. We are so glad to keep the memory of this amazing trip alive in gardens with some of their great plant introductions.

With Fronds like these, who needs anemones?

The rare Dryopteris x australis is looking superb in the garden this week. This Southeast native, naturally-occurring hybrid will grow in sun or shade and in wet or average soils. Despite its deep southern roots, it’s fine outdoors in Zone 5a. 4′ tall..pretty amazing!

Dryopteris x australis

Fern zombies awaken in the garden

Close up image of Coniogramme gracillis unfurling
Coniogramme gracillis unfurling

Like sci-fi zombies re-awakening, ferns in the garden are spring back to life.  Nothing says spring quite like the presence of new fern fronds emerging…known as croziers.  Below are several different fern images we’ve taken as they emerged this spring.  The first is the bamboo fern, coniogramme.

Close up image of Lepisorus tosaensis unfurling
Lepisorus tosaensis unfurling

Lepisorus or ribbon ferns, with their long narrow fronds are quite unique.

Matteuccia The King with new and old fronds
Matteuccia The King with new and old fronds

Matteucia or ostrich fern emerges alongside last years’ spore bearing fronds providing an interesting contrast.

Onoclea sensibilis Supersize with summer and winter fronds.
Onoclea sensibilis Supersize with summer and winter fronds.
Osmunda cinnamomea emerging
Osmunda cinnamomea emerging
Osmunda cinnamomea unfurling
Osmunda cinnamomea unfurling

Onoclea, aka sensitive fern does the same, holding both the new fronds alongside the old fertile fronds from the prior season..  Ferns like this are called dimorphic, which means they have two different frond types…fertile and non-fertile.  Most ferns pack light and have both on the same frond. 

Osmunda regalis unfurling
Osmunda regalis unfurling

The two images above are our native Osmunda cinnamomea or Cinnamon fern.  The hairy croziers are just amazing.  Recent taxonomy has actually kicked this out of the genus Osmunda and created a new genus, Osmundastrum.   Hmmm.

Polystichum acrostichoides unfurling
Polystichum acrostichoides unfurling

Here is its cousin, Osmunda regalis or royal fern…another great US native that’s also native in Europe and Asia.

Polystichum makinoi unfurling
Polystichum makinoi unfurling
Polystichum makinoi unfurling
Polystichum makinoi unfurling

This is the lovely native Polystichum acrostichoides or Christmas fern…also wonderfully hairy as it emerges.

Polystichum tagawanum unfurling
Polystichum tagawanum unfurling

Here are two images of the Asian tassel fern, Polystichum makinoi that we took a week apart as the croziers unfurled.

Pteris vittata unfurling
Pteris vittata unfurling

The lovely Asian, brown-haired  Polystichum tagawanum.

Thelypteris lindheimeri crozier
Thelypteris lindheimeri crozier

Our winter hardy form of the table fern, Pteris vittata

Woodsia subcordata emerging
Woodsia subcordata emerging

A single picture perfect crozier of the Texas native, Thelypteris lindheimeri

And finally, the dwarf Woodsia subcordata.  How can you fail to find joy in this amazing spring rebirth?  We hope you’ll visit our fern offerings and choose some of these deer resistant gems for your own garden.

Athyrium ‘Ghost’ fern

Athyrium Ghost6

I just took this photo of the Ghost fern on our patio…can’t imagine a garden without this lovely deer-resistant perennial.  Light shade or even a few hours of sun if the soil is kept moist.

Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’

Dryopteris erythrosora BrillianceHere’s a new photo of the evergreen Autumn fern, Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance‘ as it emerges in the woodland garden with its stunning new growth.

 

Painted ferns for the garden

Athyrium Godzilla3

Here are a couple of fern images from the garden yesterday.  First is our giant painted fern, Athyrium ‘Godzilla’, which can reach 6′ wide x 3′ tall.  To avoid chlorophyll shed in the garden, it’s best planted a far distance from Hosta ‘Mothra’ or Hosta ‘Rhodan’.

Athyrium nipponicum Burgundy Lace2Here is the lovely Athyrium nipponicum ‘Burgandy Lace‘..hard to beat this color in the spring garden.

 

New Ferns for 2015

Athyrium niponicum Thrill Seaker HH Clone C (63814).cc

For 2015, Plant Delights is pleased to introduce several new ferns from our trial program.  Athyrium niponicum ‘Thrill Seeker’ is one of two dwarf compact crested Japanese painted fern selections from a five year joint effort between us and our friend Hans Hansen of Walters Gardens.

Athyrium niponicum Joy Ride PDN 011 (63813).cc

The second of these crested selections is Athyrium ‘Joy Ride’…quite distinct from Athyrium ‘Thrill Seeker’ when seen side by side.

Pronephrium pengiana2 (63935).cc

Another unique fern that hasn’t been offered before is the 5′ tall, prehistoric looking Pronephrium penangianumThis amazing fern has been fabulous in our trials, but we doubt it will tolerate winters much colder than 0 degrees F.