Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Indian Holly Fern - Beauty In Simplicity

Poking around one of my favorite streams in a wood, I saw a rather common fern for what seemed like the first time. Sure, I had noticed it before, but this time was different for I stopped long enough for a closer look and to be delighted by what I saw. Early plant explorers surely knew such pleasures. I imagine them hardly disembarked before stopping to study new finds and collect samples.

Karl Ludwig von Blume (1796-1862) was one of them. A German-Dutch botanist, he spent much of his life in southern Asia, especially in what is modern Indonesia. At the time, most of the archipelago was a Dutch colony. What a botanical treasure-trove he found.

Blume named a genus of ferns, Arachniodes (pronounced a-rak-nee-OH-dees), meaning "spider-like." The name was suggested, of course, by the growth habit of the plant. There are over 100 Asian species within the genus, and about 140 New World species.

A. simplicior (pronounced sim-PLIK-ee-or) is arguably the most beautiful. Common names include East Indian Holly Fern, Indian Holly Fern, Simplicior Fern and Shield Fern. Simplicior means "simpler", and it is in comparison with many of the other species which appear quite intricate. Its beauty is in its simplicity. Glossy evergreen fronds and pinnules are long and arching with light green variegation extending their lengths. It grows 12 inches to 24 inches high and may spread to 30 inches.

Indian Holly fern performs well in USDA climate zones 7 to 10 in partial shade. It prefers consistently moist soil, but not wet. Space large container-grown Indian Holly ferns 24 inches to 30 inches apart. Smaller ones can be planted closer together. Recommended pH is 6.5 to 7.5.

Such planting sites as those I mentioned shouldn't require cultivation. However, it's always wise to take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. You'll pay a nominal fee, and receive results within a couple of weeks. Follow instructions. I have found that ferns usually benefit from a top-dressing of compost and occasional feeding with diluted fish emulsion.

Shade gardens, fern collections, woodlands, moist stream banks and Asian gardens are perfect for the Indian Holly fern. Because it is relatively small, compact and evergreen, it also makes a fine house plant. It is deer-resistant. Indian Holly fern would make any plant explorer or garden visitor stop in his tracks for a closer look.

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