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).

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.

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.