BY LORI MURRAY (with appreciation to the late Audrey Paterson)

The fern was one of the first plants on earth. Some of the 12,000 species of fern we identify today were living even before the dinosaur age and some present-day varieties will do well in our Valley conditions. This is one of the few plants which will grow profusely in shady areas.

Holly Fern has firm, leathery leaves which are broader than those of most fern and can grow to about 20 inches in length. The shiny deep green fronds rise in a spiral from an erect crown and this vase-shaped evergreen fern is cold hardy. Plant in moist soil enriched with either peat moss or compost. Holly fern will take some morning sun, but should be shaded from the hot afternoon rays. Periodically groom the fern by pulling out the low fronds which show dryness and brown edges.

Sword Fern (Nephrolepis exaltate) and Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata cv. Bostoniensis) are native to tropical regions throughout the world and common in humid forests and swamps.

Sword Fern is also known as the Wild Boston fern, Tuber Ladder fern, or Fishbone fern. The fronds are extremely long and broad with alternate leaflets on either side of the midrib which make the edges appear slightly serrated.

Sword Fern has erect fronds while Boston fern has gracefully arching fronds. Since this difference was discovered in a shipment of Sword Fern from Boston to Philadelphia in 1894, the trip might be the basis of the name. Other ideas for the origin of the term Boston fern were documented by David Fairchild who stated the term came from Florida pioneer nurseryman John Soar who sent the plants to his friend in Boston. (Wikipedia)

This fern also does well in shade but also does not like the afternoon sun. Once established, it will fill in beds by spreading from underground runners of older plants. The fronds will reach one to two feet in height.

Boston Fern does equally well here, although it can die back permanently in very cold weather. It is a very popular house plant, often grown in hanging baskets both indoors and out, and is perennial and relatively hardy in our zone. Indoors it’s necessary to mist the fronds or they will suffer from browning.

Although outdoors this plant prefers partial to full shade, indoors it grows in bright filtered light. In general, Boston Fern likes damp but not soggy soil that is rich in nutrients. Boston Fern will tolerate some drought, but thrives in humid conditions such as the Valley.

Propagate by dividing the root runners. Interestingly, the Boston Fern is classified as an invasive plant in South Africa, and in some provinces it must, by law, be eradicated. In many provinces, a permit is required to import, possess, grow, breed, move, sell, buy, or accept one as a gift. Macho Fern (Nephrolepis biserrata), also called Giant Sword Fern, is aptly named as it is one of the largest ferns to do well in our Valley. The dark green fronds can grow to be three or four feet tall. Like Sword fern, this plant will spread from underground runners. It will take cold temperatures, but does not like a freeze; fortunately it will, however slowly, come back after a freeze. Propagate by dividing the rootball, and plant in a pot, a hanging basket, or a bed.

Rainwater Harvesting Workshop

A one-hour Rainwater Harvesting Workshop will be offered on Wednesday, March 22 from 11 a.m. to noon in the meeting room of the Cameron County Extension Office.

Master Gardener Edgar Claus will present harvesting methods and provide hands-on instructions for assembling the take-home rain barrel included in the $50 fee.

The office is located at 1390 West Expressway 83 in San Benito, next to San Benito High School. Pre-register by either emailing cameron-tx@tamu.edu or calling 956.361.8236.