Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Tale of Survival: Blechnum gibbum

As work today has been delayed, if not suspended, because of the snow we had Tuesday night and the freezing temperatures this morning, I've decide to highlight a plant that reminds me of warmer places and times: Blechnum gibbum, or dwarf tree fern. Ok, so most of what I have currently would remind anyone of warmer times and places, but that's beside the point. This fern can be found across the Pacific islands. There is a cultivar of this fern called 'Silver Lady', which I'm skeptical of having any significant difference to the species. Supposedly the cultivar 'Silver Lady' has a slight silvery cast to the fronds. (Does anyone know if there IS a difference?) Further confusion has arisen because the straight species is often sold under that cultivar name and has developed the common name of Silver Lady fern because of it. I'm not sure which one I have, the species or the cultivar. Either way I love it and it was a steal at $20 because it already had almost 6" of trunk! (That's a lot of trunk for this little tree fern. The fronds reach only 2 feet in length and the trunk can grow over 3 feet tall, but remains only 2-3 inches in diameter, great proportions for an indoor tree fern!

I've always been enchanted with tree ferns. I love ferns. I love trees. Put them together and I'm a lustful mess. So after seeing the miniature grove of Blechnum gibbum 'Silver Lady' at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, (insert picture that I curse myself for not taking) I finally decided I couldn't wait until I had a garden mild enough for outdoor tree ferns. I had found one small enough to be grown as a houseplant and I wanted it! Luckily I found some at a local nursery while I was living in Kennett Square of a good size and price. Much better than anything I had found online and no shipping!

Since I didn't take a picture of it when I first brought it home, and I don't seem to have any pictures of the planting at Longwood, I'll have to borrow this gorgeous photo from Forest Ferns, below. This is what a happy Blechnum gibbum looks like. 

Blechnum Gibbun growing at Taman Orkid Garden Kuala Lumpur
Photo credit to Forest Ferns. For more information on this and other tree ferns visit their site: http://www.forestferns.co.uk/tree-ferns/blechnum/blechnum-gibbum
Now that you've seen a healthy specimen, try not to hate me for what follows. It is my first tree fern after all and, as with any first child, one is bound to make mistakes. 

My Blechnum gibbum performed quite well in a shaded area outside in the Pennsylvania summer, protected from excessive rain, and continued equally well when it was moved inside in the fall. Then I moved to North Carolina and had it outside on the deck during one of the rainiest summers in recent memory. Growing up in Washington State I had little experience with summers this humid and rainy, and I may have overwatered. (It was hot! When it's hot plants need water, right?!) Apparently, tree ferns, like Tillandsias, don't tell you they are unhappy until they are practically at Death's door. The fronds started turning yellow, then brown, then black. I took immediate action, protecting it from the rain and watering the soil only when it became dry on the surface while keeping the trunk and remaining fronds misted. The rate of browning slowed and eventually stopped, but it was hardly taking any water up from the soil so I barely watered it at all, mostly misting the trunk and fronds. I watched and waited for some signs of recovery, but for months all I had was a stable condition. It did put out one flush of new fronds, very small, but at least they weren't ugly and brown. That's something, I suppose.

Finally, in the last month or so, I have seen new crosiers (fiddleheads or new fronds) forming and unfurling. It has been taking up water faster and seems to be on the road to recovery! I'm hoping that each new frond will be progressively larger and closer to normal size.

Here you can see one frond that has been unfurling this week and a new crozier in the center about to unfurl. 

The newest crosier, with another one tucked down underneath out of view in this shot.

The whole, pitiful creature. The browning is still obvious on the few fronds that
survived from its near-death experience.
Normally this fern has an upright, shuttle-cock form, but between almost dying and receiving light from the side for months, it has developed more of an umbrella shape. I wouldn't mind it if it hadn't been for that whole near-death thing. The newer fronds are more upright, for now, but I'll have to wait for each one to fully expand before I can tell if my little tree fern is really making a full comeback or if it is still just getting by.

Getting this small tree fern (and working at a place that is famous for zone-pushing) has inspired me to try more tree ferns, even some of the almost-hardy ones. I have a tiny Dicksonia antarctica in a 4-inch pot. I like that it is so small for now because I will be able to enjoy it for many more years as a houseplant and perhaps by the time it outgrows that role I will have a greenhouse, sunroom, or even a garden mild enough to grow it in. 

I also have spore of Cyathea dregei, supposedly the hardiest tree fern (and of course one of the slowest growing). Several small specimens grow outside against a protected wall at The Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. I have sowed some of the spores twice now and mold has invaded my salad container-turned propagator both times. I'll go into more detail about my first two attempts after I make my third, which should be in a couple months. I will say this: I suspect that the mold spores survived in the perlite in the soil mix I used both times, as I have two successful sowings of other fern spores using an organic mix without perlite. 

Has anyone else grown tree ferns? Which ones and how do you take care of them? If you're in a cold climate, where do you keep yours in the winter? Or if not tree ferns, do you have a favorite fern?

Until next time...

Friday, January 24, 2014


Is there anything better than the anticipation of watching buds and bloom stalks grow? It is a time of potential, of excitement building up to the crescendo of open flowers. Surprisingly, I have quite a showing of Tillandsias producing their often short-lived inflorescences. I grow them mostly for their form, not their bloom, but when they do decide to flower the event is all the more exciting for it's relative rarity.

Sadly, many of my Tillandsias suffered an unfortunate chlorine treatment when my former landlady hired someone to wash the outside of the house and deck, where my plants were enjoying a nice summer outdoors. They talked her into letting them use bleach in the water, even though she has many lovely plants growing right up against the house which were also burnt by the bleach. Honestly, what did she expect? Of course I had moved my plants off of the deck during the cleaning, all except my Tillandsias, which were hanging in a tree just over the deck. I thought they would be safe from the spray. Guess not. Bromeliads in general take a long time to actually die, so I am still clinging to a few of them that may or may not pull through from the damage sustained. They might make it, but boy will they look ugly for a while!

Well, enough of my sob story. Back to the positive. I have 5 Tillandsias at various stages of bloom development. A first for me, due in part because I have more of these charmingly collectible airplants than I ever have before, and also because I have better lighting than I ever have before.

Tillansia bulbosa large form with the first flower just about to open. Purple, olive green, red, and orange. Nature comes up with some interesting color combos!

The whole plant. T. bulbosa is a good multiplier. I'm hoping for several pups after it finishes blooming. Old clumps can be bigger than a soccer ball!

T. caput-medusae just bloomed this past summer and produced one pup, which is already sending out a new spike! I have to say this has been one of the most successful airplants under my care. So easy.
The original plant is still mostly green. The blooming pup is sticking out to the side.
T. fuchsii f. gracilis is one of the first airplants I bought, at least 6 years ago, and is finally deigning to grace me with it's fragile bloom again, which is barely visible now as a little red-tipped bundle in the center. 

If I hadn't just watered my airplants, this one would be a beautiful silvery grey fuzzball.

T. butzii is one of my favorites. I had one years ago that due to my inexperience died unexpectedly. I seem to have gotten the hang of it though as this is the second of my two new plants to bloom in the last year. 

Like T. bulbosa, this is a good multiplier. My other plant, which bloomed earlier last summer, has 5 pups! I also love the long, thin leaves mottled like snakeskin, which is more visible in the previous picture.
No, this is not a Tillandsia, but since I'm doing a post about pending blooms, I thought I'd add my Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi), which as you can see has terrible timing. This is a genuine Christmas cactus, as opposed to the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata and hybrids) with which it is often confused (I have a few of those as well). The easiest way to tell them apart is that the Thanksgiving cactus, also called the crab cactus, has fleshy points on the stem segments, while the Christmas cactus has rounded, scalloped edges as can be seen in the above photo. Actually if you look back at the second picture of T. bulbosa, you can see a Thanksgiving cactus on the left and the Christmas cactus on the right. The Thanksgiving cactus also has a bend at the base of the flower which makes its blooms stick out, while the Christmas cactus has no bend and sticks straight down, more or less. And of course the Thanksgiving cactus blooms earlier than the Christmas cactus, though they don't always follow our calendars. 

This lovely with silver and purple-green leaves is Phalaenopsis philippinensis, which I bought several years ago as a seedling. See that purple bloom spike! First bloom, hooray! 
The whole plant. The grey scouring pad-like material is called Eco-web and is made out of recycled plastic. The leaves are so beautiful that I can ignore the less-than-aesthetically-pleasing grey pad. Mounted orchids can be a challenge to grow in the home and this one in particular needs daily watering, but this is one of many instances where my plant geek side overrules my practical nature. Still, I may buy a cork slab or something else more natural looking to mount this orchid on. It deserves something pretty to grow on, don't you think?
 Honorable mention due to Begonia soli-mutata, which served as a backdrop in several of the Tillandsia pictures. Still so much to learn about this whole blogging thing. So many little gadgets and gizmos and tinkerings to do with the layout. I'm still under construction and some things may not work as well as they should, but I have a basic post down at least. ;)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The start of something new...

Hello, I am a life-long gardener and plant-crazed maniac, trying my hand at blogging for the first time. I'm still figuring things out, so try to be patient with me. The purpose of this blog is to share my exploits in the realm of gardening. I am still gauging the time and effort that I can allocate to this project. I may be posting weekly, monthly, or whenever the mood strikes me. As this is my first time blogging, I welcome suggestions and constructive criticism on how to improve the design, readability, and layout of my blog and my writing.

A little about me. I am a recent college graduate, majoring in horticulture, who has moved three times in the past year and a half, so unfortunately I do not have much of an outdoor garden. Why so many moves? Right after college I did two internships before settling into my current job, all three in different states, and my current living situation is not conducive to an outdoor, in-the-ground garden. So until I have my outdoor garden, my houseplants will be the stars of the show, along with pictures of gardens and nurseries that I visit. I will also be writing about plants that I would like to grow and ideas that catch my attention.

As I am about to head off to work, this short post will have to do for now. I'll leave off with something to look at until I can make another post. The impetus that inspired me to finally start the blog I had been thinking of for some time now, and the newest addition to my indoor garden, Guzmania musaica.

Forgive me my quick snap shots. I promise I take nice pictures too!

First off a view of one of my plant shelves. The guzmania is the big one with the orange mace-like inflorescence.

A closer view of that medieval flower spike. Beautiful, especially on a cold winter day, but not the star attraction of this bromeliad. 

A close up of the mosaic pattern on the leaves. The undersides are purple and the tops are green. 
I have lusted after this bromeliad since I first opened my father's houseplant encyclopedia from the 1970's. Unless you live in Florida or Hawaii, though, it is almost impossible to find. At least I had not seen it available in any stores or online until about a week ago. Now it is mine, my own, my precious!

And now I'm late for work. Until next time...
Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I love hearing what readers think and answering questions. I also welcome suggestions for improvement!