Pot Shots: Bird’s Nest Fern

A young bird’s nest fern, Asplenium nidus, in a vase by potter Denis Orton.

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The bird’s nest fern takes its name from it rosette structure, with new fronds arising from its center.  In its native African or Asian jungle homes, these ferns most commonly grow high up in the canopy, anchored to trees or onto other large plants.  They enjoy high humidity and diffused, indirect light.  They catch rainwater in their central basin, or nest.

Most varieties will grow a bit larger with each passing year, with each frond of a mature plant unrolling to 2′ or more long.  Bird’s nest ferns may be grown in pots or may be mounted on a wooden base, with their roots wrapped in moist sphagnum moss, as you would mount a staghorn fern.

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These ferns may fool you at first sight, and may not even be recognized as a fern.  Their fronds are usually undivided, wide and shiny, often with ripped edges.  Many beautiful varieties may be found where houseplants are sold.

Bird’s nest ferns thrive in the warm, low light conditions most homes offer.  They naturally grow in tropical jungles, and so require minimum temperatures over 50F.  They like humidity and evenly moist soil.  They can take occasionally dry soil, however, especially if the surrounding air is humid and if they get water accumulating in their center from time to time.

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This bird’s nest fern is several years old and has been re-potted at least once.

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Bird’s nest ferns  look like a living sculpture.  They  add a naturally beautiful touch to most any room that gets some natural light.  But they also help maintain cleaner, healthier indoor air for their gardener.  You won’t see it, but tiny holes in each leaf draw air in from their environment, purify it, and then exhale cleansed, oxygenated air.  Each frond can filter and trap many pollutants, making the air you breathe indoors much cleaner and fresher.  All houseplants serve this function, even as they release water vapor back into the air each day.

If you have a loved one in your life heading off to a dorm room or apartment this fall, a small potted bird’s nest fern makes a great housewarming gift.  Small potted ferns like this are also good office plants, making a work space healthier and more beautiful, while taking up little space.  You might give a tiny mister with the fern along with instructions to mist the fern a few times each day.

I honestly rarely pause long enough to mist a fern.  But I do check on them every day or so and offer small sips of water.

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Water collects in the well at the center of a bird’s nest fern.  All new fronds arise from this central point.

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A bird’s nest or staghorn fern will grow happily in a closed container, without drainage holes, so long as you keep the soil at a moist but not soggy ‘sweet spot.’  Growing in the jungle canopy, these ferns evolved to get sporadic watering in a very humid environment.  Their roots are fairly small relative to the size of their leaves, and in nature burrow into bark or organic matter caught in the branches of trees.

You can grow these ferns in a mix blended for orchids, or in a more traditional peat based potting mix with perlite mixed in to retain moister.  If you’re growing your fern in a closed container with no drainage hole, put an inch or so of perlite or aquarium gravel in the bottom of the container to serve as a water reservoir.  Excess water will drain down to the reservoir when you water.  Perlite will absorb and hold that water, slowly releasing it back into the soil as the soil begins to dry.

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This fern has fronds similar to a bird’s nest fern, but each frond arises from a furry rhizome which creeps along the surface of the soil. These can be grown with roots wrapped in sphagnum moss, mounted with fishing twine to a board or a piece of driftwood.  I like them best in a hanging basket, where the rhizomes grow along the outside of the basket.

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Perlite is a naturally occurring volcanic rock.  The perlite you buy at the hardware store or nursery has been superheated at over 1500F until it expands.  (Think about popcorn, and how it expands when heated.)  Once processed, it looks like little Styrofoam pellets, and can absorb a great deal of water.  Perlite is used in potting soil to improve drainage, to keep it from compacting and to absorb and release water as needed.

You may be able to find a good source for ferns in little 1″-2″ pots, where they are grown in nearly pure peat.  Simply take the root ball out of its nursery pot, and tuck it into a prepared container that is at least a little larger than the original pot.  Give a tiny drink of water to settle the plant and to hydrate the potting mix, and then mulch with fine gravel.

If you are potting up a little fern for a gift, you will probably find some fun but inexpensive containers at a thrift store.  Think about little Asian bowls or other little ceramic containers.  You can also pot into a plastic cup or bowl, and then tuck that into a pretty basket or other container made of wood.

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Vase with prismatic  glaze by Denis Orton

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I was inspired to use this pretty little vase, crafted by our potter friend Denis Orton.  Denis is a chemist who is always working to create beautiful new glazes.  His prismatic glazes on porcelain fascinate me, and I’m always keen to collect a new piece or two when he exhibits in our area.

You may need to pot up a fern like this to a larger pot every few years.  But since the fern’s roots remain small, any re-potting will probably be to keep the container in scale with the expanding leaves.

Fertilize the fern with half strength liquid fertilizer a few times between April and September.  This improves leaf color and keeps the plant growing steadily.  Too much fertilizer may cause brown spots on the fronds.  Direct sun may also cause browning of the fronds.  Keep a bird’s nest fern where it will get natural light, but not direct mid-day sunlight, through your window.  The more light it receives, the faster it will grow and the more water it will require.

Consider a little fern like this a ‘green pet.’  Give it a little daily attention, and it will grow happily in your home or office for many years.

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Woodland Gnome 2018


 

 

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Autumn Roses, Safely in a Vase Today

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The wind is cold out of the west.  Even with brilliant sunshine, it was shivery cold as I dug the last tender fern to bring in today.  Frost has been forecast several times over the last week, but thus far its  been only a flirtation with that first autumn frost which decimates what’s left of our summer garden.

Most of our tender plants are either inside already, or snuggled up against the walls of our protected patio.  I trust that area to stay a few degrees warmer than the garden, which will suffice until the weather turns truly frosty next month.

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I cut a half dozen roses early Saturday morning to take to my parents, believing if left growing, they would be frozen that night.  But, as you can see, the roses keep unfolding peacefully.  The colors may be a little off from May.  Yet I believe these are almost more beautiful.

Last night hovered around 33F for a few hours around sunrise.  But tonight, I believe, will be ‘it.’  We’ve had several weeks now to prepare and remember every last thing we can possibly bring indoors.

Except the roses….

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Even yesterday afternoon, I made cuttings from our favorite scented geraniums thinking to stick them in pots around other things in hopes they will root and last through winter in the garage/conservatory.  And this afternoon, I cut a few more beautiful and wonderfully scented sprigs for this vase.

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The roses are the main attraction here.  But they are accented with a few of the very first little starts I set out last April:  A lacy Spanish lavender and a beautiful blue mealy sage.  Both have bloomed non-stop for the last seven months.  They might even come back next spring if our winter is mild.   You might also notice a few stems of Euphorbia, ‘Diamond Frost,’ still blooming in the garden, and a few tiny trumpets of lavender Oxalis.

The vase was made by our potter friend, Denis Orton.  These wonderful crystalline glazes are one of his passions, and we enjoy collecting pieces of his work from time to time.

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The roses are heavily perfumed ones, and have filled the house with their beautiful aroma as they warm up indoors.  If frost does come tonight, we will still have roses to enjoy for the next few days, and the house will still smell of summer.

That was reason enough to venture out this afternoon to cut them for a vase, and touch with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden yet again.  She faithfully cuts and arranges beautiful vases of flowers each week, photographing them and writing each week about what is fresh in her garden.  I admire her dedication to this meme, and appreciate her giving other gardeners the opportunity to join in every Monday.

Please visit her page to see what other gardeners around the world have to arrange this week as we slip ever closer to the holidays.

I am far more likely to plant up a pot of something for the house than to cut flowers and arrange them.  But every now and again, I can’t resist harvesting a bit of beauty and bringing it in for us to enjoy.  And so with theses roses, safely in a vase indoors before the frost.

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Magical autumn roses still blooming today in our garden....

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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