Sunday 20 October 2019

Fern favourite of plant lovers, adding style and elegance to an indoor setting

UNDIVIDED LEAVES: Bird’s nest fern is a popular house plant
UNDIVIDED LEAVES: Bird’s nest fern is a popular house plant

Gerry Daly

Ferns are attractive house plants, long-lasting and easy to grow in most cases, but they are facing into their most challenging time of year with warm dry air and reduced light. There are several kinds of ferns used as indoor pot plants, mostly quite robust kinds that tolerate tough conditions. Some of these like Boston fern and stag's horn fern are well known and others are more rare, such as the arching chain fern. Ferns bring a grace and elegance to any indoor setting in which they are placed.

Ferns do not flower - they are not flowering plants but a much older order of plants that are propagated by spores. The spores of ferns are extremely light and travel long distances on the wind.

Ferns are generally natives of damp woodland, so they can tolerate low light, even demand it in some cases. Because most woodland dries out for some short period, most of these woodland natives can tolerate a degree of moisture shortage.

The maidenhair fern is very popular, one of the most beautiful and graceful but can be tricky. The fronds are very delicate, almost like a very fine light green seaweed, and easily upset by unsuitable growing conditions.

In dry air, the fronds start to shrivel up and die back. Others are produced but often the rate of loss outstrips the rate of regeneration. This fern needs moist air, indirect light and some warmth to look its very best. It can act like a deciduous species, recovering in spring.

The Boston fern is much larger and its foliage is harder and more robust. It is easy to accommodate in the home but likes to have some shade and tends to fade in full sunshine. It can grow to make large arching fern with long divided leaves. The bird's nest fern has tall, undivided leaves, formed around a rosette centre. It is also very popular as a house plant and not difficult as long as it gets a cool spot out of the sunshine and the air is not dry. It can suffer in dry conditions.

The holly fern and fishtail ferns are related and both are quite robust. The leaves are holly or fishtail-like, thicker, harder and tougher, but smaller than most. The hart's tongue fern has tall, undivided pointed leaves, usually with wavy edges. This has forms with extra-wavy edges and other freakish adaptations. It is a robust fern and generally easy to grow. The stag's horn fern is very distinctive, hard and tough, and very long-lasting. This fern withstands years of neglect and can even be grown outdoors in mild areas.

The chain fern can also survive outdoors in a mild garden. Its fronds can grow to over two metres and it was much used in Victorian conservatories and hallways but it is now quite rare as a house plant, being too big. To succeed with ferns, remember their natural setting of low, indirect light and moisture. Do not allow the pots to sit in a saucer of water and keep them away from sources of heat and dry air. Light misting helps, as does a pebble tray with water in these challenging months.

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