something comforting about the sight of evergreen ferns
in the midst of cold weather when so many plants are
brown and dormant.
of those is Christmas fern, a December native plant
spotlighted by Helen Hamilton, past president of the
John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society, and
Gustav Hall, professor emeritus of biology at the
College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. They
also co-wrote "Wildflowers and Grasses of Virginia’s
Coastal Plain." Learn more about the native plant
society at www.vnps.org.
named Polystichun acrostichoides, Christmas fern
features leathery fronds that can be used in fresh
enjoy imagining the leaflets represent Santa’s boots,
as each leaflet broadens into a boot-like top where it
attaches to the scaly stalk," says Hamilton.
fern is hardy and sturdy, making it a groundcover that
tolerates conditions such as the edges of walkways. Cold
hardy in Zones 3-9, Christmas fern likes full to part
shade and well-drained soil. It tolerates some sun and
are reproduced by spores, according to Hamilton, a
retired biology teacher living in Williamsburg, Va.
fertile fronds with shorter leaflets carry clusters of
spores on their undersides. Zillions of spores are
produced but only a few germinate in a moist habitat
where they grow into tiny green plants that produce eggs
and sperm to create new plants. Christmas fern can be
seen widely in area woodlands because winds disperse
harsh winters, some fronds on Christmas fern will turn
brown and wrinkle; you can remove them so new ones
looking like silvery fiddleheads can emerge in early
spring, suggests Hamilton.
a garden, new plants should be installed after the last
frost, and pine needles, shredded bark or leaf mulch
around the plants will help protect them and hold in
moisture," she says.
ferns can be grown indoors, in front of a window with
morning sun and afternoon shade. The soil should be kept
evenly moist but not over saturated, and regular misting
helps increase humidity.
native Christmas fern is seen on Page 163 of "Flora
of Virginia," a 2012-published book that features
3,164 species and 1,400 original illustrations. The book
is part the "Clayton & Catesby: Botanical
Virginia" exhibit on display now through Feb. 28 at
the historic Jamestown Settlement along the Colonial
Parkway in Williamsburg. Clayton and Catesby came from
England to study and document New World plants.
images on show are of plants that would have been easily
recognized by the three cultures that inhabited early
Jamestown and in particular by the Powhatan Indians, who
would have used many of them for medicine and food, says
Peter Armstrong, senior director of museum operations
and education for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.
importance of these early European botanists like
Clayton and Catesby who recorded plants and birds of the
New World cannot be underestimated, for it is their
scientific record from more than 200 years ago that
helps us understand how the natural world has
three-month exhibit features 17 hand-colored engravings
created from Catesby’s watercolor paintings of
American flora and fauna, all on loan from the Garden
Club of Virginia. The exhibit also includes tools used
to study and collect plants, and biographies of Catesby
and Clayton. Learn more about the exhibit at
www.historyisfun.org or call 757-253-4838.