Pteris

Brake ferns

The word Pteris is derived from pteron, which means "fern" in Greek as well as "wing," a definition that captures the essential silhouette of the pinnae. There are 300 or so species, cosmopolitan in distribution but mostly tropical, including, however, some that are cold tolerant. Many serve admirably as decorations in homes and offices. The rhizomes are generally erect but occasionally short-creeping. The common name refers to the resemblance of the proportionately long stipes of Pteris to the similarly long legs of the bracken. These stipes are ridged or prominently grooved and usually have one vascular bundle. Evergreen to deciduous blades have very few sets of widely separated long and narrow winglike pinnae with free veins. The sori surround the outer pinnae edges and are enclosed in recurved marginal tissue (making them botanical relatives of such visually and ecologically disparate species as Adiantum and Pellaea). Many brake ferns are dimorphic with slender upright fertile fronds. In addition many of the species are apogamous, reproducing directly from prothalli, which, with such proficiency, allows them to arrive unexpectedly (and not always as welcome guests) in greenhouse cultures. Growers looking for variegation will find many options among the cultivars. All are good choices for indoors, and as with most ferns they should have loose potting soil and good drainage, and not be over watered.

Pteridium esculentum spreading in the wild in New Zealand.
Adiantum Tissue Culture

Low Pteris cretica fronds fan out in a garden setting.

Variegated foliage of Pteris cretica 'Albo-lineata' amid lush plantings in the Fernery at the Morris Arboretum.

Low Pteris cretica fronds fan out in a garden setting.

Variegated foliage of Pteris cretica 'Albo-lineata' amid lush plantings in the Fernery at the Morris Arboretum.

Compact foliage characterizes Pteris cretica 'Ping Wu'.

Pteris multifida offers the garden or household light and airy slender foliage.

Compact foliage characterizes Pteris cretica 'Ping Wu'.

Pteris multifida offers the garden or household light and airy slender foliage.

Pteris cretica Ribbon fern, Cretan brake

Epithet means "from Crete."

Evergreen to deciduous, 1 to 2 ft. (30 to 60 cm). Zones 8 to 10. Dimorphic. Apogamous.

description: The rhizome is short-creeping. Tall stipes of one-half the frond length emerge in green and blend to dark brown. Once-pinnate, ovate blades have two to four slightly spine-edged pairs of long linear pinnae. The lowest pair is branched with a minute stalk while the upper are sessile. The sterile fronds hover horizontally while fertile fronds are narrow and upright. Sori are under the false indusia of recurved margins.

range and habitat: This species grows worldwide in tropical and subtropical areas and has naturalized so extensively that the true native range is uncertain. it is found among boulders, in exposed rocky meadows, and on ledges in partial sun to shade. Although often on limestone, it does not need this association in cultivation.

culture and comments: Truly a willing plant for home and garden, ribbon fern is successful outdoors in Zones 8 to 10. Elsewhere it is one of the most popular and accommodating houseplants asking only for good indirect light, well-draining soil, and occasional, but not excessive, watering. Many culti-vars acclimate with equally minimal attention.

'Albo-lineata' (white striped), synonym Pteris nipponica, offers bicolored green and cream contrast to the traditional monochrome of ferny green furnishings.

'Cristata Mayi' has white with green trimmed foliage and small crests at the tips of the pinnae.

'Parkeri' (after Parker) is larger than the species and a succulent, glowing, deep green.

'Ping Wu' (from near Ping Wu, China) forms a densely clustered 1-ft. (30-cm) dwarf with proportionately narrow pinnae. It is hardy outdoors in Zones 7b to 10.

'Rivertoniana' (after Riverton) has shags of fringed, irregularly cut pinnae.

'Western Hills', a vigorous 3-ft. (90-cm) cultivar from Yunnan, is hardy in Zone 7b.

'Wimsettii' (after Wimsett) has fronds divided into feathery pinnae with mild crests at the tips.

Pteris multifida spider brake, Chinese brake

Epithet means "many times divided."

Evergreen to deciduous, 1 to 2 ft. (30 to 60 cm). Zones 7 to 10.

Dimorphic.

description: The rhizome is short-creeping. Stipes are brown and one-third of the frond length. The once-pinnate sterile blade is long triangular with three to seven pairs of pinnae that have starlike forking on the basal pairs. upright fertile fronds have narrow pinnae with sori under the false indusia of reflexed margins.

range and habitat: This species is native to China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam where it grows in rocky and disturbed sites or in the ground in circumneutral soil. it has escaped in southeastern North America.

culture and comments: Pteris multifida is similar to P. cretica but has a winged rachis and very slender pinnae, while P. cretica is only slightly winged at the junction of the ultimate pinnae and rachis and has more substantial foliage. The two are difficult to distinguish especially as juveniles. Grow this as a houseplant or in the garden where the linear outline contrasts well with feathery foliage.

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