Blechnum chilense

Epithet means "from Chile."

Evergreen, 3 to 5 ft. (90 to 150 cm). Zones 7 (with protection) to 9. Dimorphic.

Intense red temporarily colors the new fronds on Blechnum brasiliense 'Crispum'.

description: The rhizome is long-creeping, tossing up sturdy erect fronds at random. Grooved stipes, with abundant basal scales, are the color of weak tea and are one-half of the frond length. The once-pinnate, narrowly oblong blades have 10 to 20 pairs of rubbery pinnae on a bit of a stalk. The extended apex resembles an elongated pinna. The lower edges of the pinnae overlap the rachis, and appear to be "holding hands," or at least thumbs. This characteristic is one of the few distinctions between this species and the extremely closely related and visually similar Blechnum cordatum (both ready, along with their growers, for taxonomic clarification). The fertile fronds are tall wands of narrow, linear pinnae that are solely composed of sori running out on the horizontal from the rachis.

range and habitat: Blechnum chilense is abundant in Chile and also grows in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. In the lowlands the new growth is green, but at higher altitudes, the new fronds are a very attractive red. This species is a common and sensational ornamental in botanical gardens in the British Isles and, with its increasing availability, is immensely popular in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

culture and comments: Rickard (2000) observes that "few popular garden plants can have been so frequently misnamed as this one." Most recently it has been distributed in the United States as Blechnum cordatum, but that has lost favor (and botanical authority). By whatever name, this is a fern for instant impact in moisture and part shade. it should not be allowed to dry out. The huge (by ferny standards) fronds are frequently enhanced by bright red to salmon-colored new growth, especially in nutrient-poor soils, and give an exuberant tropical magnificence to temperate gardens. use it for height and boldness. New growth with colorful inrolled pinnae is a highlight among the many delights of assorted unfurling spring crosiers. Chileans call the unfurling frond costillas de la vaca, "ribs of the cow" (Ogden, pers. comm.).The

Pinna Blechnum Chilense
The unfurling fronds of Blechnum chilense looking like costillas de la vaca.
Blechnum Chilense
Mature fronds on a spreading clump of Blechnum chilense.

species comes readily from spores and the long rhizomes are tailor-made for division. Propagators and growers should take care, however, and not apply fertilizer to very young plants. They will reward your efforts by turning a sickly brown and attracting every slug in the vicinity. Sturdy, established plants are not effected by fertilizers, but with their natural vigor do not need any supplemental food.

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