Eric’s Pet Plant – Australian Tree-fern (Cyathea cooperi)
Big doings over at Yale’s Marsh Gardens. Our friend Eric is finally about to climb out of the greenhouse construction blues and ascend toward the greenhouse enjoyment oratorio. This week he starts celebrating, giving us the lowdown on tree ferns and inviting us to the grand opening.
Australian Tree-fern (Cyathea cooperi)
By Eric Larson
Before discussing the fern, I want to start the new year by saying these columns are not just about plants, the same way the Bible is not just about religion – not that I’m making any sort of comparison other than that. Although if I think for a minute (which is always dangerous), we could do an Old Testament about humanity’s relationship with plants and the environment, and a New Testament where we evolve into a more ‘loving’ or sustainable approach.
In the Old Testament, we were given dominion over the Earth and all that is on it. In the New Testament, we learn we are part of and not above all the processes and we share DNA with all living creatures, even the banana (some say 40%) for instance. Do you think seeing Avatar might have had an effect on me?
As we go forward, I’ll be talking about gardening in general; garden-related subjects (I wrote about water issues once, and there is a column on the way about honeybees); perhaps some cuisine and then certainly very unrelated subjects.
Once in a while, if I’m feeling cantankerous or devoid of my usual pithy plant banter, I will bring back the Colonel (British Army retired) and his wife Millicent, fictional characters based on old coots and their lovely wives everywhere. I somehow feel that writing about him will either help me avoid that fate or at least make me somewhat self-aware as I descend into it.
Now let me give you several invitations to join us at Marsh Gardens:
1. As advertised, on Friday January 29, 2010, there will be a Grand Opening of the New Greenhouse. This open house event will include tours of the glass houses, a ribbon cutting for the new greenhouse and desert display (which won’t be completely installed, but will be well on the way), live music, light refreshment and all of the usual fooferaw associated with our events.
2, Before that, we are having a couple of Pre-Opening Volunteer Days: Thursday, January 14, and Friday January 22. Both will be all day events, from nine to five, with plenty to do for anyone who has an hour or so to donate to the garden. Tasks will include general clean up, mixing soil for the Desert Display and weeding indoor plants. Sound fun? Well, if you didn’t get to the tropics for the holidays, now is your chance to get a few hours of warm humid sunlight on your face. And do a good deed for a good cause, as well as hang around with us.
3. We are planning a series of Seminars on Practical Beekeeping. New Haven beekeeper Vincent Kay, whose honey label Swords into Plowshares is sold at locally owned markets in the area, will be our instructor and leader. We will start in February and then meet quarterly, to cover all the seasons of bee culture.
The first session will center on general beekeeping issues, lifecycles, types of bees, etc. In subsequent sessions, we will offer practical bee handling advice, possibly with bee-suits so that we can have several people present when we open the hives. We will have a specific date for the first one in the next column, so please stay tuned.
CONCERNING THE FERN
After the completion of our new greenhouse, the long process of populating it with plants began. This week we have started moving large plants into the first room of this greenhouse, with an emphasis on ‘ancient plants;’ plant families or species that have been around for a long time. Cycads, ferns and other foundation plants for the history of evolution are represented in this area, along with other more ornamental plants for aesthetics.
One of the first plants we moved in was our large tree-fern, Cyathea cooperi. This native of Australia is a fast grower, which causes some concerns in areas where it has become invasive. Another story of an introduced species running amok to scare the botanists around the campfire. In Hawaii for instance, this species has taken over huge expanses of the Big Island. On a visit there some years back, I stayed in a cabin nestled amongst a tree-fern/camellia mixed forest. Charming but not biome-friendly.
Ferns are evolved from an ancient lineage that reflects pre-flowering plant reproductive systems. Ferns propagate by spores, usually on the undersides of the fronds or leaves. The term ‘tree-fern’ refers to a group of ferns whose fronds are elevated on a trunk, sometimes as tall as fifty feet or more. There are a number of families that include the morphological type we call ‘tree-ferns,’ and many genera. They all belong to the order Cyatheales. The genus, family and order names are derived from the Greek, kyatheion, meaning ‘little cup,’ referring to the cup-shaped sori on the underside of the fronds. (Sori are the part of the fern that produces the spores.)
Tree-ferns in general prefer tropical or sub-tropical rain-forest situations, and even the hardy types belong to the genus Culcita, found in southern Europe. So for us tree-ferns are a hothouse undertaking.
If you grow one in a pot you can move it from the patio to the sunroom, but there is one caveat that should be kept in mind. The tiny hairs on our species, and many other tree-ferns, are very abrasive to the skin. They get into your clothes through the tiniest openings, work their way into your skin and will often remain there for days, even through showers and baths.
Please bundle up tightly in as airtight a garment as you can find when moving, pruning or otherwise handling your plant.
As for its care, a tree-fern prefers light shade if kept outside over the summer, but as much sun as you can give it in the glass house or sun room. Water well daily except during the winter, when a bit less is necessary to keep it healthy.
Fertilize on a weekly schedule during the spring and summer, but make it less frequent in fall and winter as their growth slows down. Not much ails a tree-fern, although we noticed some mealy-bugs on ours when we moved it. But it doesn’t get completely infested as many plants do. A good going-over with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol will take care of that little problem for the (well-protected!) home gardener with only a single tree-fern to manage.
In lieu of growing one yourself, please stop by for a visit with ours.
Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author. Yale University and Marsh Botanical Garden and Leslie Land are not responsible for the inane and sometimes off the chart craziness of this publication. Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or at (203) 432-6320.