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Re: Japanese Painted Ferns

  • Subject: Re: [ferns] Japanese Painted Ferns
  • From: "ralpharcher" ralpharcher@bellsouth.net
  • Date: Wed, 24 Aug 2005 22:10:10 -0400

I first planted five A. niponicum 'Pictum' ferns over twenty years ago.
This fern grows well in our climate of hot summers and high humidity and was
the only fern to naturalize in a large number of places around the yard. It
is very hardy here and a very good garden fern, which makes a nice display
either as an individual plant or in a mass planting.  The ferns generally
started emerging a week or so before the midpoint of the emergence time
distribution for all the fern species I grew.

I started propagating by division and then planting what became a sizable
number.  In spite of being clones, many divisions were not completely
uniform in color or form after growing on in pots. There was a spectrum of
differences in appearance similar to those seen in a group of plants raised
from spore, but to a lesser degree. In many cases, fern divisions from the
same plant, which looked similar when grown in gallon pots, lost this
similar appearance as mature ferns when planted in a variety of locations.
Some ferns occasionally sported fronds which had very different color tones
with different growth habits and pinnae shapes. As plants aged, some had a
tendency to revert back to the color of the species.

Cultural conditions also had a significant effect on the color of this fern
when mature.  Observations of ferns in several other gardens confirmed my
own experience that the color that these ferns develop and retain over time
after planting is influenced by the intensity of available light, available
moisture and a need for good drainage. The ferns with the best color were
those grown in conditions of shade with bright indirect light, good drainage
and regular water as needed.  Ferns grown in full morning sun were larger
and more vigorous than those in shade, but it was critical that they receive
a larger amount of water when the soil first started to dry compared to
those in shade.  These ferns also tended to lose the distinctive color of A.
n. 'Pictum' in spite of ample water.  It appeared that the sun seemed to
bleach the frond as it unfurled.

None of the recently named cultivars grown for two and a half years at the
Whitehall Historic Home fern garden seem, to the gardeners who have toured
the garden, to be sufficiently different from the cultivar 'Pictum' to
justify a different cultivar name.  None stand out and cause the question,
what's that?  Some gardeners who paid a premium for one of the named ferns
and was disappointed that the fern did not seem very much different in color
from what the generic Japanese painted fern is, are still vocal in their

Ralph Archer
Louisville, KY USA
USDA Zone 6

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