Staghorn and Maidenhair Ferns

staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.) growing on wooden fence, irrigated by spaghetti tubing

staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.) growing on wooden fence, irrigated by spaghetti tubing

maidenhair fern (Adiantum sp.)Ferns, despite their lacy-leafed, delicate mien, are surprisingly tough. They can handle a measure of drought and survive freezes.
Our recent snow and hail, for example, were not fatal to most of our garden ferns. This is due, no doubt, to fern rhizomes, structures that hold water and carbohydrate, enabling the plants to regrow following adverse weather conditions, even if their fronds have died.
In most fern species, you never see their rhizomes, which are generally hidden, in the fashion of bulbs, beneath the soil surface. In tree ferns, however, the rhizome is hard to miss since it constitutes the trunk.
Q. How do you divide a staghorn fern? With my own plant, I tried pulling off a leaf and attaching it to a new piece of wood. But it did not work! Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
-Barbara Bail,
Agoura Hills
A. Staghorn ferns, of tropical origin, are epiphytes or tree dwellers that may have more in common with certain orchids than they do with terrestrial ferns. In terms of propagation, orchids and ferns are also similar, since both possess rhizomes or pseudobulbs and, once they reach a certain size, both may be propagated by division.
Before attempting propagation, make sure your staghorn (Platycerium bifurcatum) has matured to the point where it has produced several offsets or pups. You will want to separate the pup, identified by a shield that grows flush against the tree (or board, if it is mounted), at the base of the mother plant. Fronds will be growing out of the shield, under which rhizomes are to be found. Make sure the shield is brown before separation.
If the pup is large enough, you may be able to divide it into several new plants, making sure that each rhizome is attached to its own set of at least two fronds. Remove the entire pup by cutting underneath it with a sharp knife or machete or, alternatively, cut through it down through the rhizomes if you wish to create multiple new plants.
Find a board, at least one-half inch thick and one foot across, made of a hardwood such as oak or walnut. You can paint the board or cover it with water sealant. Make a circle in the board by hammering in a dozen nails so that the circle’s diameter is slightly larger than the diameter of your pup. Attach a wire hanger, chain or strong hook to the back of the board.
The day prior to surgery, water your staghorn well. At the same time, soak sphagnum peat moss in water and, the next day, wring it out prior to placing a clump of it in the circle of nails on your board.
Place the pup you remove from your staghorn in the center of the sphagnum and secure it with clear fishing line. Tie the line to one nail and secure it around another nail on the opposite side of the pup. Loop the line back and forth until the pup is securely fastened. Alternatively, you could place your pup in a wire basket lined with sphagnum moss.
Place your staghorn under a tree so that it receives morning sun or dappled light throughout the day. Soak it well every other week, or more often in hot weather, and make sure that the sphagnum moss does not dry out. As it increases in size, your staghorn’s tolerance of hot and dry weather will also increase.
To be on the safe side, cover your staghorn with burlap when freezing weather is forecast.
Fronds of a mature staghorn are among the largest fern fronds you will find, just as maidenhair fern fronds are among the smallest. Is there anyone who can resist a maidenhair fern (Adiantum spp.) ? Their stems arch gently with with bracelets of tiny fronds forking outwards as they grow.
Despite their disparity in size, staghorn and maidenhair ferns prefer the same sort of microclimate, with maidenhairs benefiting from an extra measure of humidity. To this end, maidenhair ferns are judiciously placed next to a fountain or other water feature.
There is another plant I recently got to know whose foliage is its outstanding attribute. It has both a look and a touch that may be accurately described as softer than soft. I am talking about coastal woollybush (Adenanthos sericeus).
Native to Australia, it is in the Protea family, which means that its roots must have perfect drainage. But if you have an amply sandy soil, all you really need to do is stick your woollybush in the ground and it will thrive, eventually growing as high as 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide, making it a fine hedge selection.
It is highly tolerant of both drought and cold. Along the coast it desires full sun, but it will perform better in the Valley with morning sun alone or, at least, protection from scorching afternoon sun.
Purple vine lilac (Hardenbergia violacea), another Australian beauty, has just now burst into bloom to announce that spring is only a few weeks away. It can comfortably handle the Valley’s dry summer heat as well as occasional winter freezes.
A member of the pea or legume family, purple vine lilac does not require fertilization to flourish owing to its self-manufacture of nitrate, with the help of symbiotic bacteria, in its root nodules.
Tip of the week
Parsley is one of the easiest and most nutritious plants you can grow. You can germinate its seeds throughout the year, but now is a propitious moment for doing so. Scatter parsley seeds over well-composted earth, water with a soft spray from a fogger nozzle hose attachment and wait.
In the event of a sudden spell of hot weather, you can sift some finished compost over the seeds to keep them from drying out before they sprout.

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