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.
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.
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.
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.
Lepisorus or ribbon ferns, with their long narrow fronds are quite unique.
Matteucia or ostrich fern emerges alongside last years’ spore bearing fronds providing an interesting contrast.
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.
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.
Here is its cousin, Osmunda regalis or royal fern…another great US native that’s also native in Europe and Asia.
This is the lovely native Polystichum acrostichoides or Christmas fern…also wonderfully hairy as it emerges.
Here are two images of the Asian tassel fern, Polystichum makinoi that we took a week apart as the croziers unfurled.
The lovely Asian, brown-haired Polystichum tagawanum.
Our winter hardy form of the table fern, Pteris vittata
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.