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Re: red leaf mystery continues

  • Subject: [ferns] Re: red leaf mystery continues
  • From: "Dean Ouer" d.ouer@cox.net
  • Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2002 10:44:09 -0800

Thanks everyone for the feedback about emerging red frond ferns. However, I
am no closer to an explanation to my original inquiry that seems more than
just conjecture. In order to clarify my initial curiosity and question, let
me throw this back out for discussion in light of the recent feedback.
I agree that the red coloration in ferns seems more pronounced during cooler
weather. This generally also seems to hold true with palms that have red
emerging fronds, though not always. On this gentle slope over several
thousand acres in Hawaii that is covered with Sadleria cyatheoides, it
changes from a green leaf to a red leaf in the matter of several feet,
continually across the slope. You could almost string a line and everything
on the lower side is green emerging and everything on the upper side is red
emerging with the plants appearing identical in other respects.
Of course, my initial speculation was a climatic influence of weather, soil,
or light. However, I am aware of a S. cyatheiodes that supposedly has a red
frond in all different conditions. Several books mention it. Therefore, I
thought this red leafed variety in question was a different species or
However, this seemed strange because of the abruptness of the change in
these plants. It is almost as if over hundreds of square miles on this slope
every single fern on one side of a road would be green without exception and
the other side would be all red without one exception. This in an area
literally covered with Sadleria cyatheiodes. I might add, I am fairly
certain these are all S. cyatheiodes and not another Sadleria species.
Even if they are different species or variants, I found it hard to believe
what I was seeing with essentially no noticeable overlap in area between the
two populations.
Of course the easy test would be to take a red leaf plant from the higher
area and transplant it in a lower area and see what happens. However, I hear
they are touchy to replant and would be especially so in lava. Even so, I
will attempt to do so on my next trip in Dec. I would like to bring spore
back of the red leaf fern to So. California, but I hear it is not easy to
grow and it would be a long time before I knew if I had a different fern
than the green leafed variety I and others are presently growing here. If
someone knew for sure, I could save myself a lot of time and trouble.
I might add the following. Since I am new to ferns I have not heard "fern
people" suggest a reason for the red emerging frond. In the palm society we
have surmised that it is a defense mechanism for the new tender growth to
appear brown or dead to marauding insects. Supposedly to their "eyesight"
red appears brown and therefore dead, and flying insects will bypass this
succulent tender growth.
Thanks again for all those who contribute to this discussion,
Dean Ouer

 --- Original Message -----
From: "Duane & Dixie Petersen" <dpetersen11@cox.net>
To: "fernnet" <ferns@hort.net>
Sent: Monday, November 18, 2002 9:11 AM
Subject: [ferns] where the red ferns grow

> While my experiences with red new growth on ferns is limited to a few
> species, there seem to be a few factors that seem to remain constant.
> In some adiantums no only is light a significant influence, but so is
> temperature.  While many adiantums show red colors as new growth, they
> show a significant difference in intensity of color when the
> temperatures cool.  This is particularly true of the A. R.
> mathewsii-microphyllum complex. During the high light of summer only a
> few show significant coloration on the new fronds, but let the
> temperatures drop below 60 degrees for a night or so and suddenly the
> new growth becomes intensely red.  This is despite the lowering light
> levels in winter.  Adiantum macrophyllum also shows a more intense red
> during the cooler temperatures.  Many tenerum varieties also show color
> and as an experiment I raised half of a batch of mixed sporlings in high
> light (artificial) and the other half in natural, but lower light.  The
> plants in 24 hours of artificial light were much more intensely colored,
> this despite somewhat higher temperatures.  Of course to complete this
> experiment I would have to raise half of these plants in 24 hours of
> artificial lighting in a cool environment and the other half in natural
> light with warmer conditions.
>   Autumn ferns (dryopteris erythrosora) also show the influences of
> light and temperature on their color.  Spring and fall seem give a
> wonderful display of reds, oranges or maroons.  Summer growth, on the
> other hand is slightly reddened or even a light green.  However, we
> occasionally have a cool spell in Kansas during the middle of the
> summer, and when we do the red fronds almost always show up again,
> although with less intense colors than spring or fall.  This does not
> negate the influence of light, however, since autumn ferns are shade
> plants and they may actually receive more sun in the spring and fall
> when the leaves of the shade trees may not have emerged and in autumn
> may have already fallen.
> In summary, my experiences with red coloration in new fronds seems to
> show that this coloring may vary by species, variety, and individual
> plant.  However, for most plants red coloration seems to depend both on
> light and temperatures (with temperature being the most important) as
> major factors.  There is also a genetic component to coloration.  Some
> few adiantum's in each sporing will stubbornly remain green regardless
> of temperature, light, or my wishes. Duane Petersen
> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
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