IF YOU CAN’T HAVE A DOG OR A CAT IN YOUR HOME, at least obtain a Rabbits-foot fern (Davallia fejeensis). The plant’s rhizomes are as soft and pet-able as a beagle’s ears. The flowing, medium-green foliage which emerges from the rhizomes is remarkable, too. Davallia makes the perfect foil for Persian cyclamens (above), African violets, and other flowering subjects. How to propagate and care for this friendly fern:
Culture. Grown in a cool house where temperatures rarely soar above 65 degrees, fejeensis is easy to please. Give it bright light or weak winter sun, constant moisture and well draining soil, and it will flourish for you. It does not demand high humidity. From January through September, I feed mine with every watering — a 1/4 teaspoon all-purpose formula dissolved in a gallon of water. (In the past I’ve fed the fern with MirAcid. However, fejeensis does not require acidic soil.)
Brown Foliage. In my experience, the fern will maintain its handsome looks for only a year or two before its leaves wither and brown in a Victorian death scene. Browning usually occurs when the rhizomes have grown so thickly matted that water can not penetrate the roots beneath them. To restore the plant to good health, do what I do, and either propagate small sections of rhizomes, or divide the plant into several new ones.
To propagate rhizomes:
First, knock the plant from its pot. If it won’t dislodge easily, cut off any rhizomes which cling to the sides of the pot. Cutting these “feet” will seem rather cruel, especially if you’re accustomed to “petting” them on a regular basis.
Finally, fill a crocked, clay pot with soil (again, this should be well-draining), and then pin the rhizomes to the surface of the mix. I use bent pieces of 22-gauge wire for pinning; a bent “bobby-pin” will work as well. In any event, do not bury the furry feet, or they will rot.
And be sure to use a shallow pot, for fejeensis does not have deep roots. I use bulb pans and also “azalea” pots to accommodate the fern’s propagation.
Placed in bright light (no direct sun, please), or beneath fluorescent lights if you have them, the rhizomes will form roots. Rooting will be evident when new growth emerges.
Propagation by Division. Now, if pinning rhizomes to soil seems like too much work, you can simply divide the fern into two or more plants. Follow the exact same procedure I described in detail for dividing the Boston fern. Just be sure to pot the divisions so rhizomes are located above the soil line, not beneath it.
No matter your age, I promise you’ll feel much, much younger in the presence of Davallia fejeensis. For it is one of the oldest plants on earth. Some botanists believe this fern predates the dinosaur. Now that’s a conversation-starter!
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