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the interior of the fernery at Morris Arboretum

Four Flourishing Ferns in the Fernery

In these final days of winter, as both plants and people get anxious for spring, we are searching for signs of growth—and the Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery is the perfect place to be surrounded by lush greenery. Kyra Matin, Plant Propagator at the Morris Arboretum, highlights four ferns that are currently flourishing in the Fernery and that you can see on your next visit to the Arboretum. She will also be leading the class Propagating Ferns on Saturday, March 19 where she will be teaching the magic that is propagating ferns by spore!

Kyra is also on the board of the Hardy Fern Foundation and runs their social media (where you can often see photos from our Fernery, including Buzzy our resident cat) so needless to say, she knows her ferns! She started working at the Arboretum in October, moving to Philadelphia from the Pacific Northwest (“a very ferny part of the country,” she says), and is thrilled to tend to the Fernery at the Morris Arboretum.

Pyrrosia lingua (felt fern or tongue fern)

Pyrrosia lingua is one of the easier Pyrrosias to grow, but it’s just out of reach hardiness-wise for planting outside in Philadelphia. Fortunately, we can enjoy it in the Fernery! The common name for P. lingua is felt or tongue fern. Common names, like scientific names, often describe characteristics of the plant in question. Felt or tongue fern are apt descriptors for P. lingua because the fronds feel like felt and their shape is reminiscent of a tongue. Lingua, the species name, is the Latin word for tongue.

There are fifty-one species in the genus Pyrrosia. They have a wide native range, spanning across Africa and Asia, into Australia, New Zealand, and Polynesia—with a concentration of species diversity in the tropics. Many members of the genus, including P. lingua, are mainly epiphytic (grow on trees) or lithophytic (grow on rocks). P. lingua is native to Japan, China, Taiwan, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Korea, and Vietnam. There are a many P. lingua cultivars with cool and unusual leaf shape and color. This species was part of John Morris’ original collection that was installed in the Fernery in 1898! His Pyrrosia was ordered from a nursery called W & J Birkenhead located in Manchester, England, along with the 200 or so other fern taxa John Morris procured for the Fernery around the time of its construction.

Pyrrosia lingua (felt fern or tongue fern)

Cyrtomium falcatum, or Japanese holly fern, is one of the most prevalent ferns featured in the Fernery. This fern reproduces readily by spore, and the warm moist conditions in the Fernery only increase its reproductive prowess. There is an impressive sized C. falcatum growing at the top of the waterfall, as well as many smaller individuals smattered throughout the moss and rocks. It is one of the only ferns that thrives alongside maiden hair ferns in the dark, cavernous gully at the back end of the Fernery. The species name, falcatum, is from the Latin word for scythe or sickle, and the emerging fronds in the photo do have a sickle shape about them!

Stenochlaena palustris

We often joke that Stenochlaena palustris (which does not have an English common name) is plotting to take over the entire Fernery! It is clearly thriving in this dappled sunny location. This species is native to Australia, Polynesia, and throughout Southeast Asia and India. Unlike most ferns, the emerging fiddle heads of S. palustris are a popular cooking ingredient! In Malaysia it is a key component of several dishes; in the Northwestern state of Sarawak the fiddleheads are stir fried with garlic and shrimp paste or dried shrimp to make a dish called midin. In the southern region of Malaysia, in a province called Kalimantan, S. palustris is called kalakai and fried in batter to make a cracker called keripik kalakai. The greenhouse staff have not yet tried making these dishes, but they do sound tasty!

Asplenium australasicum (bird's nest fern)

Asplenium australasicum, also called bird’s nest fern, is native to East Africa, Tropical Asia, Australia, and Polynesia. This specimen in the photo is one venerable, old fern—it was planted in 1994 (28 years ago!) after the Fernery restoration and has been growing in the same spot since. The brown to black stripes you see on the back of the fronds are the sori, which contain spore. The linear striped pattern is a unique characteristic shared by many ferns in the genus Asplenium.

For more information on the Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery, including a downloadable self-guided tour as well as a history of the Fernery, click here!