A peacock in the garden

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Selaginella willdenovii shines
in the rainforest.

Club mosses (also called spike mosses) had a rough time in the drought. Yet, with our high humidity and some squirts with a hose, Selaginella species can succeed until the rains become more regular afternoon events. In Fairchild’s rainforest, there’s a glorious Selaginella willdenovii. Its blue iridescent sheen makes this fern ally a wonderful addition to a shady and moist spot in the garden.  It hails from Southeast Asia. The so-called blue peacock fern or peacock club moss is a Selaginella uncinata. A red version is S. erythropus from South America.

While there are some fern allies that grow in temperate areas, most are tropical. They reproduce by spores, as do ferns, but their leaves are entirely different. Club mosses have minute leaves with a single vein in each.  The spores are produced in little spikes at the end of the leaves.  Many of these species make good ground covers because they crawl along the ground and form mats. Others, like S. willdenovii, form frond-like leaves that rise up from the ground; still others grow their leaves in rosettes.

High humidity is necessary to keep the thin leaves healthy.  Over winter and in a dry spring, my peacock fern, which is a ground cover beneath a mango tree, developed brown areas. These dead areas can be pulled away or just left, and the new branches will form over them.

A good reference for fern allies is Fern Grower’s Manual, Revised and Expanded Edition, by Barbara Joe Hoshizaki and Robbin C. Moran.