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« Charlton Griffin | Main | Hijacked »

March 29, 2006

The Forever Fern

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I have a fern in my apartment.

I am not a fern fan.

I am indifferent to plants of all kinds. Don't hate 'em, don't love 'em. Would just as soon not bother with 'em.

Here's a picture of the kind of fern I have.

Fern 3.jpg
Hares Foot Fern.
Among other places, it comes from the South Pacific.

So why do I have and care for something I don't especially care about? Let me tell you the story.

During World War 2 my father worked for the Army Engineers. After the war ended, a lot of employees were let go including my father and a guy originally from someplace in New Jersey.

The New Jersey guy and his wife decided to leave Seattle and return to New Jersey (the fools!! ... sorry, I just couldn't help it). And they had this fern they couldn't easily take with them. So they asked my parents if they would be kind enough to give the fern a good home. My parents agreed.

That was in 1946. Sixty years ago. The fern has been in my family ever since, making good on that promise. My parents are dead and probably the New Jersey couple too. The fern lives. I have it and maybe a niece has part of it as well.

Is this a case of pig-headed foolishness or one of principle and steadfastness?

I dunno.



posted by Donald at March 29, 2006


All -- I'm going to be away from a computer till Monday morning, so I won't be able to post any replies in the interim. Sorry if this is an inconveniece.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on March 29, 2006 5:45 PM

How long do these ferns live? I would never have guessed that such a plant could survive 60+ years. Not that I know a thing about plant longevity (except in my vicinity: short).

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 29, 2006 6:29 PM

We have one of these "legacy plants" in our house. It looks something like a hosta and it has the most exquisite white blossoms once a year that you can imagine. No bouquet. Anyway, this pot plant came from the front porch of my wife's great aunt. It has a bulb and continues to divide and you have to separate it every five years or the pot becomes root bound. Bottom line: this plant goes back at least 50 years and possibly longer than that. We don't know what the thing is, so we call it "Aunt Meda" after her aunt.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on March 29, 2006 7:28 PM

Congratulations Donald: let me introduce you to the head of the Int'l Association of Pteridology (for the next time you go to Berlin!):

Thornton Wilder's niece is also a fern expert, and gives actual "fern walks" at the Coastal Maine Botanic Gardens.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on March 29, 2006 9:57 PM

Now you've made me obsessed with the lifespan of ferns. Actually, lifespan seems like a tricky concept when discussing ferns, as the history of a fern growing in the United States Botanic Garden suggests:

The Vessel Fern, Angiopteris evecta, situtated in the Jungle [room of the Garden], is believed to be the direct progeny of the Vessel Fern brought back on Wilkes' ship [in 1842]. Because of the life span of Vessel Ferns, it is highly unlikely that the present fern is the original; however, since ferns reproduce through alternation of generations, a method that allows a fern to reproduce through creating genetic clones of itself, it is believed that the present fern is a direct descendant and genetically identical to the original.

Your fern may not be the original fern at all, but perhaps a genetically identical descendant. If this is the case, and this reproductive behavior continues, I must ask what arrangements you plan on making with your younger relatives to care for this plant. The "duty" you have taken on to nurture this fern and its offspring might go on for centuries!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 30, 2006 1:24 AM

Pig headed foolishness, no.
Sentimental, perhaps.
But mostly, damn impressive. I worked for a greenhouse for many years, and I know how impressive this feat truly is.

My green thumbs and I bow to you. Truly.

Posted by: Introspectre on March 30, 2006 8:34 AM

Some people get very attached to ferns. The doctor/author Oliver Sacks has often spoken about the emotional bond (I think even identity) he feels with ferns. Me, I have no idea what it is people see in ferns, though I enjoy running across 'em in big forests.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 30, 2006 10:51 AM

Well, its a truly remarkable plant story. But my biggest problem with ferns is evident in the picture---the brown spots they get. Some part of them is always brown, no matter how much you try to pull the dead leaves off.

But their lifespan is kinda creepy, isn' it, like they really are left over from the dinosaur age? And how is it possible that MBlowhard had an author story about ferns? Is there a subject under the sun that he doesn't know how some author felt about it?

Posted by: annette on March 30, 2006 11:12 AM

It's an inspiring story. Honestly.
I think it's just great.

Posted by: David Sucher on March 30, 2006 11:28 AM

While hiking in the woods in Connecticut, I came across the site of an abandoned house. Not much was left of it but a cellar hole, a few stones of what had been the foundation – and a daffodil growing next to where the front door had been.

Posted by: Mitch on March 30, 2006 11:33 AM

Friedrich -- Quicky reply from my Santa Barbara motel. The fern grows those fuzzy "feet" from which roots grow anew. Old parts probably die off as the fern (in its natutal habitat) "moves" across the landscape drawn by its advancing feet. I replant it every 4-5 years, basically ripping it apart and replanting the bits here and there in the pot. Kept on one place, it utterly depletes the soil it's planted in.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on March 31, 2006 10:56 AM


You are wonderful!

look and sook yin fr studioLDA

Posted by: look and sook yin on April 5, 2006 12:02 PM

Well! I have been searching the web for info about a hairy leg fern I got in a weird store. It grows fast and I really like it. I have to say, your site is the only place if found a picture that fits and gives me the name of this pea pickin fern. Thank yew ever so much.

Posted by: Karen on April 12, 2006 7:24 PM

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