Growing up in Rosenberg, as far back as I can remember, maidenhair fern grew in the front porch flower bed at our house. Mother had azaleas to the back of the bed with the fern filling in below and in front of the azaleas. In the Spring the bed was a beautiful mix of pink flowers with their darker green foliage and the small delicate bright green fern massed all around them. I was not into plants as a kid, preferring instead to raise tadpoles and catch hog-nose snakes. But I always thought that was a pretty flower bed.
Kitty Hunt, our backyard neighbor, was from New Jersey and had brought a start of the fern with her when she and her husband moved to Texas. She shared it with Mother, and it flourished, sometimes getting almost as tall as the azaleas, just a blanket of fern. Bill and I lived in Arkansas briefly after graduating from Texas A&M and while I can remember that my interest in cactus was forming then, I didn’t think about taking any fern with me. When we moved back to Texas, however, eventually I started a fern bed at our house in Edna and did it again in Muleshoe. I am not a fern expert, but it seems to me that fern needs growing conditions that would be the exact opposite to cactus, that West Texas would just be too dry and hot for fern to thrive. And maidenhair fern is so delicate and fragile-looking that it is hard to imagine that it could survive our wind, our sun, and in the winter, our cold.
But if you give it plenty of water and some shade and a little protection, maidenhair fern does just fine, thank you very much. It will die back to nothing when the really cold weather hits, which hasn’t happened yet, so right now it is still green and lush. But in the Spring when the ground starts to warm up, wiry little black curls of stems will appear and magically turn into the leafy green fronds that make this fern so distinctive. Which means that out here in the wind and drought, I have touches of rain forest co-existing with desert dwellers. Neat, huh?
I saw maidenhair fern growing at Westcave Preserve in Austin this summer, shown in the picture below. Over time I have given starts to friends all over Texas, and I have seen the fern growing naturally all over the state, along river banks and in other wild places. I realize Mother could have could have acquired the plant right here in Texas, but what she started out with came from New Jersey, a colder state, so even though maidenhair fern has a delicate name to match its delicate growth pattern, it is no shrinking violet. It is strong enough to survive whatever weather is thrown its way-provided it has water. In fact, it has been my experience that it prefers an outdoor environment, regardless of the weather, because it just doesn’t do as well as a house plant as it does outside.
The fern bed rotates as a bright spot to enjoy through spring and summer, or a bright spot to anticipate as winter ends. Just one more thing I can thank my mother for.
The legacy continues.