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Ferns In The Living Room During Winter

[The Life Of A Fern]  [Where Hardy Ferns Can Be Grown]  [Ferns In The Mixed Border]  [Rockwork For Ferns]  [Hardy Ferns For Indoor Culture]  [Ferns In The Living Room During Winter]  [Fern Rockeries Indoors]  [Fern Culture Under Bell Glasses]  [Exotic Ferns Without A Greenhouse]  [Aerial Fern Culture] 

( Originally Published 1907 )


THE dry heat of our homes in winter is not at all favourable for the growth of native ferns, which by right should rest at least four or five months of the year. A few species, however, break the natural order of things and may be kept growing indoors with fairly good results.

The cheerful little polypody is always pleasant to look upon if one "sees through and beyond." It is astonishing how this rock-clinging species holds its own in any situation. It is especially attractive grown in birch-bark baskets accompanied by herb Robert, with its happily contrasting foliage.

A pretty specimen of ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron). As an all-round fern this species takes prominent rank. The plant photographed was taken from pine woods in July, and a year later had not materially changed. The only noticeable difference is the loss of one or two of the old fertile fronds and a profusion of new sterile ones clustering about the base.


The secret of success in the cultivation of both species is the simulation of natural environment of the root growth. Thin bits of limestone or other rock must be placed against the fern roots, and moss and earth enough added to hold them in place. This is the one imperative demand of the ebony spleenwort. I have never taken up a specimen of the genus whose roots were not resting on or against or tucked under a stone of some sort. Aspleniums as a rule are limestone loving ferns, but the ebony spleenwort is sometimes found on certain slate formations.

I count myself of the favoured few privileged to find and test the cultural qualities of the celebrated hybrid, Scott's spleenwort (Asplenium ebenoides).


This strange fern partakes of the natures of both its parents, Alsplenium platyneuron and Camptosorus rhizophyllus, and its cultural possibilities are much the same. Great care was exercised in perfecting the drainage in the glass fern dish, also in propping the stones upon which the roots rest in such a manner that the natural pose of the plant was exactly the same as when growing on the mossy slope between the rocks. My plant was taken from a limestone ridge in July, and five months of indoor growth is represented in the picture (Plate 17). The older fronds retain their colour and show a greater tendency toward developing rooting apices indoors than they do when grown outdoors. The stronger influence of the walking leaf is apparent in the new comer, whose fronds without exception would root at the tips if unlimited space could be given. Nature is capricious and fails to please herself sometimes. Tired of the stiff prettiness of the very correct little ebony spleenwort, she took the step aside which entailed the long controversy over the origin of the unique product called Asplenium ebenoides. No appreciable beauty was thus added to the genus, but much of interest.

This mystery was hardly brushed away when another "sport" possssing desirable attributes which the type and its hybrid lacked posed before the botanical world. Asplenium platyneuron var. Hortonce is a valuable acquisition as a cultural fern on account of its greater gracefulness. Asplenium platyneuron is frequently off-colour and the ebenoides too light, but the newer acquisition is a bright, rich, medium shade of green, so pronounced that a single plant in the midst of an abundance of the type instantly attracts attention. Cultural conditions are the same for the entire group.

When the longevity of rare finds is of greater importance than decorative growth indoors, it is wise to observe the inevitable period of rest before Nature asserts her rights.


For instance, my three plants of the hybrid Asplenium ebenoides were taken indoors in July. The growth of all was carefully watched and encouraged through the winter; consequently the plants were so exhausted by the time they were hardened off in May and placed in an out-of-door rockery that the issue of their struggle for life was doubtful in the fall of the following year. Two of them lived through the winter and gradually regained strength, but not enough to withstand the spring winds of a second season.

Profiting by the experience, my Hortonaea find of July, 1903-which like the ebenoides grew rapidly indoors, was relegated to the cellar in November, where it simply stood still in the dim light for four months. After this enforced rest it was restored to daylight, and in a few weeks became the most perfect specimen fern it was ever my lot to own.


The walking leaf (Camptosorus rhizophyllus) prefers a rocky foothold, but grows remarkably well indoors with an apology of mineral matter beneath its roots. It is more decorative than any green-ribbon concoction of milliner's art could be. It is an exceptionally interesting fern because of its unique habit of growth.

Spores are not only wafted hither and thither by fitful winds, but the long, tapering fronds rooting at the apices throw up other progressive plants. This is the tramp as well as the scribe of the fern family-the sole member of the group literally walking a crack in the rock or inscribing wonderful things on moss-clad walls. The root growth of the walking leaf seems to be a matter of circumstance, for the species thrives equally well in the outdoor world, with much or little nether development.

For cultural purposes full-sized specimens growing in thin moss are to be avoided; they can be made to grow indoors or outside, but it saves time to select plants from earth-filled crevices or from thick sheets often found on the top or at the base of rocks.

The staying qualities of the fronds are unprecedented. I have in mind one remarkably fine specimen with adherent plantlets, all carefully taken up and properly placed on the platter with moss. New growth appeared, other fronds rooted at the apices, but the original fronds were in good condition for two years. A few weeks only of this time were spent in the cellar for enforced rest. The strength of texture may be realized when it is seen flourishing on the rocks in April while the snow was yet deep about the plants. There is but little change in colour of the fronds, even after a severe winter.


Strange as it may seem,the purple cliff brake (Pellaea atro purpurea), which often hangs from an almost invisible seam on the face of a perpendicular cliff, subjected to intense heat in summer and all the bitterness of a bleak New England winter, is a first-class fern for indoor winter culture. It is a rapid grower, flourishing but a few feet from coal fire or radiator, in a north or south window. It quickly forgives neglect, and, if allowed to dry up out of doors or indoors, recovers in due time when put in a moist atmosphere. It makes but one imperative demand, and that is the privilege of standing still. Over-zealous culturists usually like to turn things around, but revolving cliffs are not in the natural order of things. The slender black stipes are very susceptible to change of light, and warped and twisted fronds result.

All of the above ferns hold their freshness under adverse circumstances, but rarely send out new growth until February.

In acclimating ferns taken indoors in late fall or early winter, avoid, as far as possible, a rapid transition from a cold atmosphere outside to over-heat inside. A gradual rise of temperature will insure the best results.

Screens are very useful in shutting off heat. An occasional showering keeps the foliage healthful. Over-watering is always disastrous.

Native ferns indoors are subject to the ordinary plant pests, chief of which are green aphis and slugs. Confined fumes of tobacco will answer for the one and whale-oil soap suds for the other.

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