On a recent field trip, I bought 110 evergreen native cloned female Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana) from BK Cedars, a grower in Alachua. Mature female junipers produce rounded blue, berrylike female cones. These pyramidal shaped named, variety ‘Robin Blue,’ will be included in a dense evergreen biodiverse privacy screen and wildlife buffer zone across my road front and lot perimeter. In the cypress family Cupressaceae — as are Redwood and Sequoia trees — Red Cedar junipers are a medium-sized, long-lived tree reaching 66 feet tall in cold zones 3–9.
BK Cedars owner Sue Kossuth allowed me to collect some attractive baby ferns growing alongside her lane. Sue was unsure of the species current name. The Red Cedars were repotted and staked in No. 3 10-inch diameter pots and the ferns in No. 1 6-inch pots, then placed in my shaded irrigated nursery. What is this fern’s correct name? Recent DNA testing has dictated reclassification of some plants. Internet research can be time-consuming and difficult to verify these days.
Ferns and fern allies are called Pteridophytes in the family Blechnaceae. In 2016 Lorinseria, a monotypic genus with just one species, was separated from Woodwardia. Now commonly named “dimorphic chain fern,” Lorinseria areolata is native to eastern North America. Reclassification was because of its anastamosing veins, lobed frond form and frond dimorphism. Having no idea what these words meant, I looked up the botanical definitions. The leaf vein pattern looks like a fine hairnet. My newly collected ferns are this unique species! There is enough to share with other gardeners.
Easily grown, shade-tolerant Florida native ferns in my small garden collection include Golden Polypody (Phlebodium aureum), Resurrection Fern (Polypodium polypodioides), Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum), Wood Fern (Thelypteris kunthii), Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris), and Wood Fern (Woodwardia virginica). I also grow exotic Leatherleaf Fern (Rumohra adiantiformis), a frost-tender, tropical to subtropical evergreen perennial fern used in the florist trade as long-lasting cut fronds. My favorite exotic garden fern is the striking Japanese Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum). These ferns are low-maintenance, pest and disease free for shady, humus-rich planting beds beneath shade trees where grasses cannot grow.
Sometimes called a fern ally, Selaginella spikemoss is the only genus of vascular plants in the family Selaginellaceae. Selaginellas occur mainly in the tropics, with a few species found in north and south arctic alpine zones. Three species occur in subtropical Florida — meadow spikemoss (Selaginella apoda), sand spikemoss (S. arenicola) and Gulf spikemoss (S. ludoviciana). I grow one of the 700 spikemoss species. But which one? Maybe S. krussianna?
Selaginellas (used as a common name, so no italics) have simple scale-leaves on branching stems. Creeping leaves may be horizontal, aerial, or ascending, have a ligule and have two types of spores. Roots also grow from the leaves. Modern scientific names are confusing for gardeners and homeowners like me.
The genome of Selaginella’s model plant, S. moellendorffii, was recently sequenced by the United States Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute. Current subdivision of the species leaves two taxa in Selaginella, with hundreds of other species now placed in new or resurrected genera. I still don’t know the correct name of my plant. The name Selaginella was erected by French naturalist Palisot de Beauvois 1752-1820, for the species Selaginella selaginoides, which turns out (with the closely related Selaginella deflexa) to be a common ancestor (clade) of all other Selaginellas.
Eco-friendly Florida gardeners never grow invasive alien ferns like Chinese ladderbreak fern (Pteris vittata), Japanese climbing fern (Lygodium japonicum), tuberous sword fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia), and Giant Salvinia (Salvinia molesta).
Asparagus fern plant (Asparagus aethiopicus, syn. A. densiflorus) and foxtail fern plant (Asparagus meyerii) are exotic invasive flowering plants, not spore-bearing ferns. Collectors should keep invasive plants indoors so they cannot spread and infest Florida’s natural environment. These two popular houseplants tolerate low light conditions and irregular watering.
Armed with a correct scientific name, it is easier to research up-to-date information on the internet. Homeowners often use common names and keep a notebook with the binomial to ensure they buy the species they want for their garden.
Jane Weber is a professional gardener and consultant. Semi-retired, she grows thousands of native plants. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 352-249-6899.