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Using Australian Ferns in the Garden

Kyrril Taylor

Report by Ruchir Sodhani on a talk given by Kyrril Taylor of ASGAP's Fern Study Group to a District Group meeting of the Australian Plants Society.

At our February meeting, Kyrril Taylor introduced us to a variety of ferns from his garden during a fascinating talk much like the upcoming Hollywood Oscars night. The main characters, which we usually see on the screen, were present in person. And to top it all, they did not complain when mobbed or touched.

In his wanderings, Kyrril found a lone Drynaria rigidula (Basket Fern) growing 40ft up on a massive overhang in Kakadu. It was growing out of almost bare rock and there were no other similar specimens around. The sporangia of this species is arranged in distinct raised round clusters forming single rows on either side of the central vein, like a beautiful necklace. Another of the same genus, Drynaria whitii is peculiar, since it is sterile. To propagate it, one has to slice a piece of rhizome and grow it from mat. This fern can produce a nest-like frond structure. But despite subjecting his fern to various environmental conditions, they have not reproduced in Kyrril's fernery.

Blechnum nudum
Microsorium scandens
Top: Blechnum nudum.
Bottom: Microsorium scandens.
Photos: Geoff Warn

Microsorium diversifolium is another fern with pronounced, round sporangia. Microsorium scandens is a small, vigorous climber and a good cover for rocks and logs. It has a musky fragrance during the sporing season. It will readily climb a tree fern or a eucalypt, with its long-creeping, wiry rhizomes. Sporangia rearranged in distinct rounded clusters close to the margins on the underside of the fertile fronds. Microsorium punctatum has upright fronds that grow to half a metre in height. Fronds are light green, undivided, leathery and coarse. They are lanceolate with a rounded tip and have a raised mid vein. Spores are scattered across the leaf without a set pattern, much like shaken pepper.

Pteris pacifica is a fast growing species whose spores make a fine edging to the pinnules on the underside. Pteris umbrosa (Jungle Brake) is an unknown beauty among ferns. It is a tall clumping fem that grows well even with benign neglect! It does not need to be wet all the time. Its glossy dark green fronds are grooved on the upper side. John Aitken added that he has found that these ferns do well when pruned with a whipper-snipper! This comment prompted light-hearted discussion of the relative benefits of everything from wipper-snippers to ride-on mowers for improving your ferns.

Blechnum nudum (Fishbone Water Fern) lives for around 7 years. After that it forms a trunk and dies. It is found in wet and damp areas such as creek banks. Fronds are lanceolate in outline but dissected down to the mid rib into numerous linear segments to give the frond a pinnate appearance. Blechnum camfeldii is a hard water fern that grows to your satisfaction. It has two shapes of fronds (dimorphic). The fertile fronds are thin, while the sterile ones are wide. Blechnum patersonii (Strap Water Fem) exhibits similar dimorphism. It has dark green fronds, which are paler below, pink when young and strap-like and leathery. The margins have small serrations and the midrib is distinctly raised on the underside of the frond. Blechnum fluviatile grows near water. New fronds are pink, and these change colour to red, bronze and finally to green.

Asplenium pterioides is a fern found on Lord Howe Island. It has kidney-shaped spore structure. Since his Asplenium polyodon (Sickle Spleenwort) has not been growing as expected, Kyrril said that 'he'll be talking to it'. This is a variable species forming arching or pendulous clumps. The fronds are pinnately divided into sickle shaped segments. Dictymia brownii is a hardy arboreal fern, which grows in the fork of trees. It has the largest individual grouping of spore carriers among Aussie ferns. Caterpillars love the spores and may cause punctures all along the leaves. Lunathyrium japonicum (Japanese Lady Fern) is very hardy. The fronds are triangular in outline, pinnately divided towards the top and bipinnate towards the lower parts.

Kyrril's tip for would-be fern growers: Do not throw away any seemingly dead fern as it most probably will regenerate, even after 6-12 months!

Along with creating a cool green atmosphere in the garden, ferns are much more hardy and forgiving than we give them credit for. You can find a suitable fern for every position in your garden. If you love ferns, the fernery at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney is worth a visit. Locally, Joseph Banks Reserve has a good selection as well. Kyrril's recipe for growing ferns is simple: Use a coarse mixture, remember the advertisement of Kellogs 'Just Right': not too heavy and not too light. Mulch them well, and use 'Charlie Carp' as the fertilizer!

From a newsletter of a District Group of the Australian Plants Society (NSW) - original source has been lost).

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