Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Feral Orphan (Cyrtomium falcatum)

This is yet another plant I've talked about at Garden Web previously, owing to the odd circumstances by which it came to me. There are two plants in the picture here: the first one I found growing under one of the tables in the greenhouse at work, and the other one grew spontaneously in a pot of some other fern (I don't remember which for sure, but I want to say a Pteris), and then I took it out, gave it its own pot for a while, and waited. It didn't seem too traumatized by this, so I bought it, brought it home, and introduced it to the other one. Each of the ferns only had about five fronds and looked a little sparse, but together they're more respectable:

It's a frustrating plant to research; the same few facts are repeated over and over without elaboration, and a lot of places don't bother to mention it at all. I was kind of excited to see two Cyrtomiums (some dwarf variety, I think) in our year-end tropicals shipment: they're the first ones I've seen that were actually brought in deliberately to sell.

Mostly what you will learn if you research this plant is:

• It's a popular outdoor fern for shady spots, though there's confusion about where it will grow: one site says zones 7-10, another site says 5-8. Both may be right; I have no idea.
• If you want to buy one, you're better off going to a place that specializes in landscape plants than in houseplants.
• It's the most awesome fern ever!!!11!!!1!!!!!!!eleven!!! for growing indoors, because it tolerates dry air, low light, and gas fumes better than most.
• They like cooler temperatures than most houseplants.
• It reproduces from spores.
• It has shiny, "leathery" (?!) leaves, which are green and look like holly.
• It's not toxic to pets or kids.
• It's originally from Japan.

That's pretty much all there is. Not terribly helpful. No wonder the poor thing feels like it has to fend for itself under the tables, and sneak into the pots of strangers. I mean, you can figure out the leaf color by looking at a picture, but almost everybody mentions it anyway, and if it's a fern, you know it reproduces from spores, because that's part of what makes ferns ferns. Also, saying that the leaflets on a fern known as holly fern resemble holly leaves is almost too stupid to dignify with a mention.1

Two new fronds emerging

And really, that's all you need to know, in some ways, but let's forge on ahead anyway:

Clearly, any plant that's okay with growing under a greenhouse table isn’t going to be all that picky about light levels, and mine hasn't seemed to be. I have mine in the bathroom, with a smallish fluorescent light on it, and it seems to be just fine with that. It was surprisingly thirsty (actually not all that surprising, because I'd been warned about this by "nanw" at Garden Web), needing water about every third day. Humidity levels fluctuate in the bathroom, but clearly it hasn't encountered anything it can't handle, so that's good, and everybody says they can handle low humidity anyway so it may not need to be in the bathroom in the first place.

The only real issues are temperature and propagation. On this latter point, propagation of ferns from spores is hardly impossible. People do it all the time. But it's a good bit more involved than just cutting a piece off and sticking it in water or soil. You have to have ripe spores, you have to be able to collect them somehow, you have to have some kind of sterile medium to grow them on, and there's potentially a long wait before you get any results. Still: if and when it pays off, it's likely to pay off big, in several baby plants at once, and it doesn't hurt the parent plant to try or make it look ugly, like taking cuttings can. What's more, I suspect that Cyrtomium is probably an easier plant to propagate from spores than other ferns, because I assume that's probably where my plants came from, because that's the simplest way to explain their odd locations. So if I ever get spores, I intend to try this.

Temperature may or may not be a big deal; everybody says these prefer cooler temperatures, but if they're also being grown outside in zone 8, then they're clearly capable of handling warmer. So far, my plant hasn't complained about the situation in the bathroom, which overall tends to be cooler than the rest of the apartment but which heats up whenever somebody takes a shower. So we'll see, but I'm not worried about it.

But that's about all there is. My plant has been admirably consistent so far about producing fronds regularly, even when it'd just been relocated, uprooted, or whatever. It did lose a lot of fronds when I first got it home, but I suspect that was because I spent a lot of time wiping the leaves hard with paper towels: months of dust and pesticide and water spots and so forth had left it covered in something gray and tenacious, which needed multiple washings before I could get it off. I suspect I damaged some fronds in the process. Still, it bounced right back. They're tough little guys. If the look is the sort of thing you like, and you happen to run across one, it's worth picking up.

EDITED 5/13/08: Raised the difficulty level from 2.6 to 3.1 because it's really just not patient at all about droughts.


Photo credits: moi.

1 (But only almost.)


Anonymous said...

Hey Mr. S., how's your holly fern doing now? Despite keeping mine in supposedly ideal conditions (bright light, reasonably high humidity, cool area) it's circling the drain. I had hoped this would be the one fern that could make it through a dry midwest winter, but alas, it's not meant to be. Hopefully you had better luck?

mr_subjunctive said...

It's hanging in there, though it needs to be watered more often than I'm able to water it, so a few of the fronds have failed to open all the way or have gone yellow from lack of water. It's also directly in line with a heat vent, which didn't seem to be bothering it before, but that may be a factor in the quick-drying thing.

So it's going downhill a bit, but I expect it's still going to make it through the winter as long as I don't put off watering. Most of my plants are willing to wait an extra day if they have to, but not this one.

Ethan said...

I think my fern is one of these - has the same leaf shape & growth pattern... I accidentally bought it in a week moment at the checkout of the local hardware store! haha
I had a quick google at the time & read that some ferns can also be propagated by root division, which I tried & had great success with. Just gently eased the roots apart by hand. I bought mine about 2 months ago & divided it pretty well straight away. Both plants are now a bit bigger than the original one was & growing very happily - one indoors, one outdoors. It's winter here now, so we'll see how they go when the heat comes around again!