Post last updated: November 1st, 2018
I have referred to this fern for many years as a “bird’s nest fern” because I didn’t know any better and that’s how it was tagged by the nursery.
I probably would have continued in my blissful ignorance had I not wanted to show it to you. Showing it, of course, required the bare minimum of research on the web. About the third time I heard myself muttering “My fern doesn’t look like that,” I began to suspect my fern was suffering a bad case of mistaken identity and obviously, the nursery had no idea what they were fobbing off on the unsuspecting.
Off to the library I went. I checked out an “Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns: 700 Photographs, More than 960 Ferns” by Sue Olsen. Believe it or not, the encyclopedia weighed more than my purse.
As I huffed and puffed it towards the car, occasionally staggering under its weight, I was certain I would find my fern in its 400+ pages.
The problem with an encyclopedia is its tendency to tell you way more than you wanted to know in language entirely too scientific. I understood every fifteenth word and found many of the fern names to sound like diseases you might catch and never recover from. Like glycyrrhiza and cystostegia. I’ll bet you’d faint dead away if your doctor pronounced you the victim of either one of those.
Three hundred pages in, I started to worry that I had some kind of mutant on my hands and I am never surprised when my plants turn into mutants. Finally, the photo captioned “juvenile and adult stages of phymatosorus diversifolius” looked as near to my fern as I figured I was gonna get given that I had only another hunnerd pages of possibilities.
While phymatosorus sounds suspiciously like it dates back to the dinosaur age, the encyclopedia claimed this was “an umbrella genus for a number of species that have been variously classified as microsorum, polypodium, and Lecanopteris.” In my mind, the word umbrella covers the possibility of any mutant I might have on my property.
A few more pages in and I saw another photo of a fern leaf resembling mine with a fancy botanical name I can’t pronounce. Polypodium cambricum or Southern Polypody. Even Southern Polypody is a bit much, don’t you think? No wonder the nursery tagged it “bird’s nest fern.” They wanted to make it easy on us ignoramuses who, they rightly figured, wouldn’t know any better anyway. I mean, really, what’s the likelihood of someone with a bad memory remembering polypody? Far more likely to occur is someone asking me “Oh, what is this?” I would clearly enunciate “Southern” and then turn away muttering “something-or-other” as I pointed to another plant to distract their attention from my ignorance.
I had a little trouble with the heritage of these ferns. Phymatosorus are native to New Zealand and Australia but the Polypodium cambricum comes from “southern Europe and Britain” with ‘cambria’ being an old name for Wales. All of those countries are pretty far apart so it stretches my imagination like silly putty to think my fern could be that globally wide-spread yet need an umbrella for classification and three hundred pages before it shows up in an encyclopedia.
The next time I want to show you something, I’ll put it on a Wordless Wednesday or Silent Sunday and sum up all my wisdom in the photo caption because, really, all I wanted to say about my fern was “Aren’t these spores just the coolest?”
UPDATE: On May 7, 2017, at an Open Garden Tour through my local daylily club, I learned the correct name of this fern: Kangaroo Paw Fern. I found a sufficient number of them identified as such on Google Images to convince me this is, finally, the correct name.