Maiden ferns

The wide-ranging populations of Thelypteris are the ornamentally challenged orphans of the fern community. While they can be attractively functional in supporting miles of roadside banks in the eastern United States and elsewhere, it is hard to recommend many of them for decorative value. (It is especially difficult since the very best and most handsome of the lot have been reclassified as Phegopteris.) However, when found in nature, they occur in abundance and it is valuable to know who they are.

They are uniformly deciduous with pale to bright green thin-textured monomorphic, hairy foliage and definitely grow from creeping rhizomes. Vascular bundles are two, and the sori are often naked or briefly covered with a kidney-shaped indusium. They come all too readily from spores (often as a "bonus surprise" in the greenhouse) and are efficiently easy from divisions. Grow them in the moisture-laden "back forty" where a quick fill of greenery is desired but not a focal point.

There are as few as 30 to as many as 1000 types worldwide, depending on interpretations and delineations of current tax

A mist system in the fern glen at the Dallas Arboretum cools the surroundings for Thelypteris kunthii and makes it possible to grow a varied assortment of other temperate ferns.

onomy. Most are tropical, while six or seven are of significance to gardeners in the Northern Hemisphere.

Thelypteris comes from the Greek thelys, female, and pteris, fern, hence the common name. I would like to think that the moniker is based on the supposed slender, delicate structure rather than the aggressive nature of the genus.

Thelypteris kunthii Southern maiden fern Synonym Thelypteris normalis

Epithet is after German botanist Charles Kunth (1788-1850). Deciduous, 2 to 4 ft. (60 to 120 cm).Zones 8 to 10.

description: The rhizome is short- to long-creeping. Stipes are straw-colored, with brown hairs and hairy scales, and are one-fourth to one-half of the frond length. Bushes of pinnate-pinnatifid blades are lanceolate to narrowly triangular, and truncate with 18 to 25 pairs of narrow, furry pinnae tapering gradually to the apices. Sori, also surrounded by hairs, are medial.

range and habitat: This species is native to a southern tier of the United States where it grows in roadside ditches and riparian habitats. Populations extend to the West Indies as well as rare stations south through Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, and northern Brazil.

culture and comments: With its low maintenance and heat tolerance, this easily introduced species is popular in the southern U.S. nursery trade. Use it with care in moisture-rich sites where a quick cover is welcome.

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