RABBIT’S FOOT FERN
The plant sits on my filing cabinet during the winter and on my patio railing during the summer. My finger gently strokes the furry length of one of the tarantula-like legs that extend over the edge of the flower pot. I caress the soft “hairs” that are a delightful blend of tans and browns, a characteristic that makes the leg resemble a rabbit’s foot.
My finger must gently bypass the delicate, lacey, ferns that grow out of the plant known as the “rabbit’s foot fern.”
I received the unique plant from a good friend, Virginia DePew, around 1978. We were living in rural Slippery Rock then. Virginia and her husband, Elmer, were our neighbors. I am reminded of them at the times I care for and/or enjoy the plant.
Last spring, I realized that the plant was root-bound. It wasn’t until this spring that I decided to repot it, separating it into multiple plants which I could pass on to friends and relatives.
Once separated, I figured that I needed to supply information on the plant with those who were receiving its starts, including friends and members of the Beanery Writers Group.
I also gave starts to the Conservatory, a plant and gift shop for gardeners on Rt. 30 in Laughlintown, PA. Persons visiting the shop, open betweenMay 1 and September 30, can ask the owner, Terry Coyne, about the plant. Her shop is open Friday through Monday, 11:00 to 6:00.
To research the plant, I did my usual: surf the Internet. There I learned that the plant is a tree-dwelling evergreen species from Fiji, where it grows in tree limbs. The name Rabbit’s-Foot Fern is its popular moniker, while its botanical name is Davallie fejeensis (named for the Swiss botanist, Edmund Davall, 1763-1789). Biologically, the tarantula-like legs, or rabbit’s feet, are called rhizomes, and the ferns are called fronds. The hairs are papery bracts.
This plant is astonishingly resilient, known to have survived temperatures as low as 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Its decorative life is: years.
The brown spots that appear underneath the leaves of the mature plants are spores, not bugs. It doesn’t reproduce through flowers, but via spores.
And, I learned, it looks best if potbound, when the rabbit’s feet surround the pot like a hairy spider. Oh, what did I do? The time to repot is when the plant requires constant watering. (I hadn’t noticed this.)
Propagation is not difficult. Break off a piece of a “foot” about a six-inch length that includes the point and a spot where new fiddleheads come up. Pin them horizontally on the surface of moist soil (recommended is long-fibered sphagnum moss, but I’ve used potting soil), and watch them grow.
The planting mix should drain well, since the rhizome (foot) holds water.
This is a plant that thrives even with carefree attention. It lasts a long time in its container before becoming rootbound. It is loved by everyone who grows them. However, they are difficult to find at local nurseries. You might have to find either an online source or an owner willing to part with a foot of their plant.