The dinosaurs of the plant world, ferns are among today’s most commonly grown foliage plants.
Ferns existed on our planet long before humankind appeared. The pre-historic forests that covered much of the earth’s land surface and were home to many species of giant ferns have long since disappeared into decay and often reappear in the form of our present day seams and beds of coal. Fossilized remains and shapes of various ferns and fern-like plants can still be found in the coal as it is broken apart into the layers that were formed countless thousands of years ago.
Ferns produce no flowers, but plant lovers cultivate and enjoy them for the beauty and diversity of their delicate leaf surfaces (called fronds) which add a nice touch to shaded areas of the outdoor garden. In addition, ferns are often grown indoors as houseplants.
Since the ferns do not flower, they have no seeds with which to reproduce. Instead, new plants grow from spores that are produced by the fern plants. Also, many of the ferns grow and extent themselves over a larger area, whether planted directly into the outdoor soil or grown in containers, by means of their rhizomes which are running stems that grow either on top of the soil or just under the soil surface.
If the plants spread too greatly and become crowded in their containers or growing area, they may be thinned or divided and re-planted by digging them up, cutting through the roots, and re-setting as many divided sections as desired.
As a general rule, ferns grow best in shaded areas with lots of humidity in the air and moisture in the soil. For this reason, they work well in your garden settings near splash fountains and pools or ponds that are located in the shade. Note how many times you find ferns growing naturally in forested areas along shaded woodland streams.
Ferns can also be incorporated nicely into rock gardens, thriving in just a bit of soil between rocky patches, again provided the necessary moisture and shade are a part of the site.
In addition to the rewards of growing plants of unusual and delicate foliage, gardeners who choose to cultivate ferns get the benefit of raising plants that require very little in the way of special attention. A bit of mild plant food on a regular basis, moderate to warm temperatures, and water and shade are all you need in order to grow lush richly-green ferns of your own.
Although thousands of varieties of ferns still exist, most of them are not domestically cultivated at all but are found growing wild in their natural environments around the world. However, a certain basic few are most commonly grown by home gardeners and landscapers. One of the most popular ferns grown, available for purchase most every year from your local garden center is the Boston fern. These are especially popular in hanging baskets, as the long drooping fronds will grow to 3 feet and more in length, often flowing gracefully over the edges of the container. In our area, these hanging Boston ferns have become a favorite nesting place for house wrens, who seem to find the plants and begin building their nests within them almost as soon as we place them beneath the overhang of the front porch each spring!
Another popular fern is the rabbit’s foot or hare’s foot fern, often cultivated as much for the unusual appearance of its rhizomes as for its foliage. The creeping rhizomes of the plant actually rest on the surface of the ground around the fern and have a whitish or tan colored densely covered hair-like surface that resembles a rabbit’s foot.
The asparagus fern (Asparagus setaceus) is a popular houseplant that is not really a fern at all, but truly a member of the asparagus family. Its popularity lies in its delicate looking foliage, which is not really all that soft but actually a bit prickly to the touch.
On a worldwide basis, ferns are also found in tropical jungles and in wet swamplands. The common denominator of location seems to be the need for a mostly shaded growing site.
Try incorporating ferns into your home gardening efforts, whether planted in a moist shady location maybe on the north side of your house, or potted as an attractive year-round greenery houseplant adding elegance to your living room.