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Fern Friday

Published on October 29th 2021

by Going.Local. All rights reserved

fern frond
There is nothing quite as awe-inspiring as entering a grove of ancient Tree ferns with the morning light trickling through the undergrowth. Our fascination with ferns might date back to their ancient origins, but this love affair spans centuries with no end in sight.
The soft fronds melt even the most taciturn of gardener's hearts. While some may advise you to steer clear, I will list some tips and tricks you can follow to keep them happy.

Know your ferns

It may seem arbitrary or sometimes impossible to distinguish between different species. I bet if you ask any gardener what a maidenhair fern is, you might realise that even though there are multiple maidenhair species from different continents, your average gardener will say they are all the same. Luckily, most ferns that grace the shelves are repeat offenders and relatively easy to identify.
Did you know | A Pteridophile is a person that has a particular interest in or love of ferns (Pteridophytes).
The easiest way to learn is by identifying your stock-and-trade exotic species. Let us start from the basics.

Japanese holly fern

Cyrtomium falcatum

*Kangaroo Paw Fern
maidenhair fern
Some maidenhair fern come from Australia like Adiantum australis, while others like Adiantum capillus-veneris is indigenous.
New Zealand
Southeast Asia
*Not actual ferns, but mistaken for them:
Do you recognise any of them? Then let us take it one step further.

How do you ID a fern?

You may be thinking: “Should the app not be able to identify it for me?” My answer would be that identification is very reliant on the photos and the parts of a plant that is photographed. In the case of ferns, there are several things you should look out for.
Here are some things needed for an accurate ID:
  • The spore pattern on the back of a frond (i.e. is the sori striped or circles)
  • The frond (‘leaf’) shape, structure
  • Does the stripe or “stem” contain hairs or scales?
Test 1: Australian Tree Fern vs South African Tree Fern
This is a fairly common doppelgänger that many confuse with one another. The South African tree fern known as Cyathea dregei (or Alsophila dregei) is a slower-growing and less common (in cultivation) tree fern. You are more likely to pick up an Australian tree fern along your travels, but the latter has a good knack for escaping into the surrounding gorges. Its spori (round globes of spores) are at the fork of the veins whereas Alsophila dregei have rows of 6-10 sori in two rows along the leaflets.
fern in habitat

Fern habitat

There is a myth doing the rounds that all ferns like a damp environment at all times. Ferns are ancient and encompass more than 13 000 species across 568 genera. They grow in deserts, on rocky outcroppings and, yes, in tropical forests. Some like their feet wet, because they evolved next to streams, others absorb moisture through what most consider to be stems (aka you water the trunk, not the soil). Some even dessicate to the point of looking dead but are very much alive.
How do you know what your fern needs? Well, if you have identified your fern, then you are one step closer to your goal. The most common problem with ferns is watering. Some prefer to soak up water in a self-watering container, while others require a dry spell. Here are some rankings to help you in your journey:
I like lots of pure water:
I like to dry out now and then:
I can do lower light & droop when I need water:
Blechnum attenuatum is a large indigenous fern that produces bright pink new leaves.

A closing note on Indigenous Ferns

You would be hard-pressed to find any indigenous ferns lining the shelves of your local nursery, as I found out while scouring the nooks and crannies. When asked about this discrepancy, one nurseryman said it is due to the slow germination and lack of market. So to promote the beauty of some of our local species, I will highlight a few in my garden and the nurseries that stocked them.
Large (1m<):
Thelypteris dentata
Gorgeous & Unique:
Cheilanthus viridus

Wildflower Nursery

We are suppliers of indigenous plants to landscape architects, landscape contractors, eco-estate Developers and homeowners in Gauteng. Our mission is to make you as enthusiastic about our indigenous flora as we are! We do this by making quality indigenous plants more readily available so that it can contribute to a sustainable future and through appreciation of our flora, promote biodiversity.

Fernhaven Nursery

Fernhaven Nursery opened to the public in 1993. They are also a wholesale nursery supplying extensively to nurseries and landscapers. The owner, Dr Chris Myburg, is a radiologist with a keen interest in ferns. He has been propagating and collecting ferns for 20 Years. Epiphytic ferns have become a special interest specifically the Platycerium group, also called "Staghorn" Ferns. An indoor Garden of approximately 400 square metres at the nursery displays the plants in as natural an environment as possible. Koi fish also adorn the garden, as well as imported Bromeliads which have become a passion. Many indigenous and non-indigenous fern species are for sale - come and have a look!

If you find ferns fascinating and would like to know more, let us know in the comments below.

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