Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fragile Fern

Just what is it that makes us feel Spring is coming? I had a real feeling of it yesterday, so took K-dog for a walk and thought about this interesting question as we stumbled about in the ice-covered snow. There's not much snow right now, but what there is, is covered with a crust of ice so you stay on top of it for two steps, then you crash through the next. Add in the fact that much of my path is at a sharp angle (sideways, I mean) and you can see why we were stumbling about. Kip didn't have as much trouble as I did of course but even he took a few lurches. At one point he walked easily up a large boulder, and then slid back down! We went down to the rock wall where the Fragile Ferns are. I half-way thought there might be visible fiddleheads, but of course it is much too early yet.

The light is brighter, that's one sure sign Spring is coming. On the other hand, while I understand the maple sap has been running for several weeks, I see no sign of the buds on the trees swelling yet, nor do I see that red flush over the marshy areas that are always first signs of Spring around here.

Springtails, those weird tiny black bugs also called Snow Fleas, are another Sign and there were plenty of those. They hatch in their multitudes on warm days, covering the snow with black specks. I wonder what eats them. Apparently they spend most of their time underground and are one of the partners in a complicated three-way deal involving underground fungi, and Pine roots. I've heard that many Fleas means many mosquitoes, so we'll see. Not so many Fleas as usual this year.

When we got to what I call Fern Rock there were of course no fiddleheads yet. Here's a picture of the rock
showing them in early May. It's amazing how this small fern can grow in only a crack in a vertical rock face. If you look just right of middle, you can see a small plant all by itself in only a crevice. This rock is pretty well vertical, so how does rain get in? Maybe it trickles down and is slowed and diverted by the lichens. Come to think of it, the picture does show an area of rock above the little plant with less lichen cover, and a trail of moss below it.

Fragile Fern, Cystopteris fragilis, is one of the very first ferns come alive in Spring. It's called Fragile Fern because it goes dormant in dry times, but fragile it is not. It occurs all the way into the Arctic Circle, so it has to be tough. It's botanical name makes more sense. 'Cystopteris' refers to the sori, which start with indusia that look like tiny bladders. As the spores mature they push out the side and the indusia rupture and wither. Mature spores are black, and you can always tell a Fragile Fern by the black spore dots. In the picture below (bottom right) you can see the immature sori, and above it some mature ones. Note that some of the sporangia, which hold the developing spores, are already empty, and thus look brown. So the pinnule in the picture has some sporangia still holding spores, and some that are empty. The spores develop fast so it can be tricky to get some for propagating.

Mind you, this fern is not hard to propagate. Cuttings of the rhizome work quite well and are easy as get if you can find a Fragile Fern growing on a rock (instead of in it!) or even in the ground as it sometimes does. Spores germinate readily and the sporophytes develop rather quickly. That said, the plants I have in the fern propagator right now are a year old. They have matured enough to have fertile fronds! Don't know how they'll react to being planted out this summer. They will have skipped a whole winter..... sort of like some of us like to do.

Fragile Fern is great in the rock garden, usually staying under 18" high, and fine in dappled shade or even full sun, as long as you either keep it watered or stay philosophical when it goes dormant.

And it's a sure sign Spring is here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Trilliums on a Snowy Day

Snow day today! It's snowing steadily and we are supposed to be getting a fair-sized accumulation. So far there is about 10cm down, so I am going to considering my path to the Studio (all 30 feet of it) totally impassible, and have a Snow Day!

(For those who caught it, yes, I am fully bilingual when it comes to measuring systems. I mix feet and centimeters to suit myself. Very Canadian.)

I have some Trillium seeds from the Trillium-l seed exchange ready to put into pots. The best instructions for germinating Trillium seeds are to give them 2-3 months of warm, that is, damp and warm, conditions followed by 2-3 months of cold ditto. As soon as they arrived, I put the seeds along with a bit of a lightly dampened mix of peat and perlite into little baggies, and put the baggies in an airtight container on my desk. Today I'll move the seeds into pots of the same mix with a bit of soil added, cover them, and put them on the floor at the back of my plant shed, covered with a thick blanket of pink insulation. They should stay cold without freezing like that. Then, when the snow starts to melt, I'll move them outside to warm up naturally as Spring arrives.  If all goes well they should form tiny rhizomes with a single root. Only next Spring will they put up a green leaf. And this first leaf won't look like a Trillium leaf although once you know what they look like you can recognize them. They look like little green flags! Look at all of them at the base of these clumps of T. grandiflorums:

(No points for spotting the Dandilion.)

The year after that they will put up 3-parted 'real' Trillium leaves and in another year to two they should bloom.

Trillium grandiflorum is easy to grow in Ontario. They aren't very fussy about soil, but they do need enough sunlight and decent drainage. They won't 'do' in deep shade or a soggy spot. Other than that, just remember that they are Spring Ephemerals, which means they will be up early, will bloom early, and will go dormant in the summer. I had a fellow a couple of summers ago, came with his wife to buy some of my pottery, who was determined that he wanted to have a White Trillium in his tiny garden behind his row house. Always the helpful beaver, I sent him home with a nice three-stem potful. The next Spring they were back. I asked him how the Trilliums worked out.

"Oh, he said, "they died.".

I was kind of surprised, and asked him when did they die.

"August. First they got shabby-looking, and then they died."

I reminded him that they go dormant, and asked him if they had come back this Spring.

"No. I planted some geraniums there instead, they're good and give colour all summer long".

I was able to restrain myself.

Toronto Gardens (link on the sidebar) has a thought-provoking blog about ethical questions relating to native plants. One that they touch on but don't go into detail about, is the often dubious origin of native plants being sold at nurseries. Since many of the more interesting natives are slow and/or tricky to propagate, they are dug from the wild, potted up, held for a few weeks, and sold as 'nursery propagated'. In my opinion, this is bad and wrong, on a number of counts. Where I lived before there were a lot of Wood Lily, Lilium philadelphicum, around. One day they were all gone, and there were holes where they had been. Somebody dug them, and there were far too many for any garden so we know what happened.

I have a hunch the problem isn't as wide-spread in Canada as it is South of the border, but we still need to be careful when we buy plants.

Here's a picture of a nicely round-petalled form I am encouraging in my garden. This is one of the best forms I've seen and it came up in my Sampler Garden. I moved it to a better spot and I'm hoping it will become a large clump. When it does, I'll divide it and eventually build up a bit of a stock of them. It's fairly large, too, and will have real presence in the garden. You saw it here first!