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Fern top image 2022 07 20 140347 wave hill

Flipping over Fern Fronds

July 22, 2022

Find respite from the summer heat in the Shade Border. Partial canopy coverage from oak, beech and other trees keeps this area cool for plants and people. Even though summer is a quiet time in this garden area, when compared to the colorful carpet of wildflowers in April and May, there is still plenty to enjoy. Right now, ferns that offer year-round textural interest have a hidden surprise! Flip over a fern frond to find geometrically aligned bumps called sori, receptacles that hold fern spores.

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Ferns reproduce via spores—the genetic basis for a new fern—this is unlike flowering plants, which reproduce through seed. Typically held on the underside of a fern frond, these sori (singular = sorus) house hundreds of dusty miniscule spores, each with the potential to mature into a new fern plant. The timing of spore formation varies based on fern species and environmental conditions. Hardy ferns which grow in our Shade Border, are sporulating or releasing spores right now. As you make your way through this garden area, flip fern fronds to see and feel what is underneath—a closer examination will reveal a mesmerizing pattern of textures and colors.

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Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern)
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Dryopteris clintoniana (Clinton’s wood fern)
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Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Barnesii’ (male fern cultivar)
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Dryopteris erythrosora (autumn fern)

You can learn more about fern spore collection and more on the website for the American Fern Society. The Hardy Fern Society, based on the west coast, is also a great resource for information.

If you enjoy Garden Journal entries, please join us for one of our weekly Garden Highlights Walks on Sunday at 2PM or “Plant Pick-of-the-Day" walk on Tuesday at 12 noon. Each is led by an experienced Wave Hill Garden Guide.

Jess Brey,
Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter