One group of plants I’ve found interesting for a long time is ferns. They’re among the oldest lineages of plants, but like the angiosperms, much of their diversification happened in the Cretaceous. Ferns really make the alternation of generations visible more than any other group of plants.
Around here, there’s somewhere around 20 different species of native fern. That may seem odd, considering we lie on the border between a subhumid and subarid climate. This spot on the edge of the Edwards Plateau is quite prone to drought stress: we have hot summers with sporadic rain and very little soil on top of porous rock. But ferns are abundant here: growing in little humid microclimates in cracks in rock, along seasonal seeps, and so on. Here’s a few just in my neighborhood: Those three ferns are by far and away the most abundant ones near my house: Thelypteris ovata var. lindheimeri, Myriopteris alabamensis, and M. scabra. The first one is a more typical non-xeric fern, but the other two prefer dry spots. You also might be able to just make out a baby Cyrtomium falcatum — Japanese holly fern — in the first photo. This is a non-native fern that’s still really commonly grown as a landscaping plant. It is somewhat invasive, but not to the level of many other plants in our area.
Because T. ovata is a vigorous clumper, I grabbed a small division off one of the big clumps. It’s recovered very nicely and put out three fronds since then. I’m growing it in basically succulent soil, but watering it frequently because they seem to prefer growing on rock. This beautiful fern has been super easy so far. It’s fascinating because Texas is the only part of the US where it grows. It’s very similar to the river ferns in the east. I decided to try growing M. alabamensis and M. scabra from spores following this guide. I started the M. alabamensis first and I’ve gotten great growth on my gametophytes. It should be pretty easy because the US populations are all supposedly apogamous triploids: that is, they are sterile and gametophytes grow directly into sporophytes. So far, I haven’t had issues with them. The medium is lava sand, and I mixed the spores with dilute maxsea and ground limestone. I’m super excited about these! I did the same for M. scabra a week ago, and I’m happy to say I’ve got germination! They’re still too small to photograph, even under a microscope. Unfortunately, these are going to be tougher because they’re supposedly sexual. So I’m going to need to somehow water them enough for fertilization without watering them so much that the gametophytes will die. Unlike most ferns, Myriopteris gametophytes do not like being wet.
While I was waiting for the spores to sprout, one of the suppliers of the nursery I work at came by with some grown up M. lanosa to see if any employees wanted some. I grabbed one straight away. While this one isn’t native here (it only grows at one location in Texas), it’s a lot like the others and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s done quite well for me so far! Lastly, I picked up a staghorn fern from PetFlyTrap that’s done pretty well so far. I’m going to try growing T. ovata from spores once my fronds dry out. I’m also trying to find Anemia mexicana, quite possibly the most fascinating native fern, so I can try to grow it from spores, too.