Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dreaming of tree ferns

While most of the plants in our garden are appropriate for where we live—succulents and bamboos included—I have a weakness for plants that aren’t fond of our Mediterranean climate. Tree ferns are one case in point. Their native habitats are generally cool and misty—much like San Francisco and Berkeley where they thrive. Here in Davis, the summers are typically too hot and dry and the winters a bit too cold for them (heck, for me too!).

I know I shouldn’t spend my energy trying to grow tree ferns here, but I still do. And when I removed the frost cloths from my tree ferns last week, I was pleased to find them in reasonably good shape. This Tasmanian tree fern (Dicksonia antartica) had a little bit of freeze damage but nothing severe:

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Dicksonia antartica, our backyard

The Australian tree fern (Cyathea cooperi) in the next photo, on the other hand, was perfect, with damage whatsoever. The fact that it’s under the bay trees definitely helped.

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Cyathea cooperi, our backyard

My two tree ferns are beautiful on a small scale and I truly enjoy having them, but I know that they will never grow into truly impressive plants. And that’s OK with me. I’ll be satisfied with eventually having a moderately sized specimen like this nursery plant:

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Cyathea cooperi, Sierra Azul Nursery, Watsonville, CA

To help you understand why I’m so fascinated by tree ferns, here are some photos of larger specimens. Let’s start at the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley, CA:

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Dicksonia antartica, UC Botanical Garden, Berkeley, CA

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Dicksonia antartica, UC Botanical Garden, Berkeley, CA

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Dicksonia antartica, UC Botanical Garden, Berkeley, CA

Last year I saw some fantastic tree ferns at Worth’s Paradise, a private residence in Mill Valley, CA which I visited on Marin County Open Garden Day:

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Unidentified tree fern, Worth’s Paradise, Mill Valley, CA

But the most magnificent specimens I’ve ever seen were in Tasmania. There Dicksonia antartica truly grows to tree size. Walking through a tree fern forest in Mount Field National Park is an experience that will forever remain one of the most unforgettable things in my life.

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Dicksonia antartica, Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

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Dicksonia antartica, Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

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Dicksonia antartica, Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

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Dicksonia antartica, Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

Equally impressive were the tree ferns on Sarah Island on the west coast of Tasmania. There they aren’t the dominant vegetation but rather grow as isolated specimens. They truly stand out as you can see in the photos below.

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Dicksonia antartica, Sarah Island, Tasmania

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Dicksonia antartica, Sarah Island, Tasmania

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Dicksonia antartica, Sarah Island, Tasmania

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Dicksonia antartica, Sarah Island, Tasmania

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Dicksonia antartica, Sarah Island, Tasmania

I wonder if gardeners in Tasmania wish they could grow plants that thrive here in the Sacramento Valley? I suppose the grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome is universal.

12 comments:

  1. Wow! Your gorgeous pictres of tree ferns blew me away! These are such beautiful plans!

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    1. Beautiful, majestic, and mysterious. Tree ferns look like they have been around since the age of the dinosaurs--and they probably have been.

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  2. I love tree ferns, and I too attempt to grow them in a climate that's far from perfect. Currently mines lives in a greenhouse in the winter to be safe, but I have heard stories of people successfully growing them outdoors. I friend of mine has a giant one on Saltspring Island, it stays out all winter long with no winter protection whatsover. I thought for sure they'd grow down where you live, I didn't realize the climate was so different from your place to San Fran. Keep fighting the good fight, and I wish you fern well.

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    1. We're only an hour from Berkeley, less than an hour and a half from San Francisco, but the hills between here and there make all the differences in terms of climate. I've seen mature tree ferns in downtown Sacramento, which has its own microclimate. Just a few extra degrees in the winter make all the difference.

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  3. If only.....

    But I, like you,, will be happy with my small potted versions. Still a girl can dream!

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    1. Exactly! It would be boring if we limited ourselves to plants native to where we live :-).

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  4. The allure of tree ferns, such stunning plants aren't they? I suppose that's the trade off with living in an area that gets guaranteed warm summer. But you're doing really well with your specimens.

    What about connecting them to a regular drip irrigation during summer? They do size up relatively quick from a small plant if given lots of moisture, and perhaps the summer heat in your area won't be a problem?

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    1. My potted tree ferns are on a drip but the air is so dry here in the summer that the leaf edges often turn brown. I've already resolved to hose them down twice a day this summer to see if it makes a difference, both in terms of looks and growth rate. Should I fertilize them more heavily?

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  5. Great photos of such an interesting plant! The ones on Sarah Island look like sculptures.

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  6. How about some misters for the tree ferns in the heat of the day?

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  7. Great photos, very intersting plants too! I don't grow any of them in my garden, but I plant them in my parents garden which is more arid and hotter. Very nice!

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