Traveling to Taiwan with Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery opened my eyes to many of those green things that grow under my beloved trees and shrubs. After watching him wax poetic over the 400th different fern we passed I began to take a closer look at this group which I had always liked but never really appreciated. The intricacies of texture, form, growth habit, and color really took me over. I still can’t identify most ferns but a few stand out to me. Pteris wallichiana was one fern that Tony spotted in Hualien County on Taiwan at almost 8000′ elevation. It made a large clump with slowly spreading rhizomes and fronds to 8 feet tall. Tony nearly cried tears of joy when he found good spores on the undersides of the fronds and this plant has now settled in happily in the JC Raulston Arboretum’s Asian Valley. So far it is just getting to about 3′ tall for us but each frond is reaching a bit higher in a rich soil in part sun. The fronds are curiously branched, something few ferns manage to do. Tony dubbed this plant ‘Hualien Giant’ and it looks to be an outstanding garden plant, perhaps the closest a warm, temperate garden can get to a tree fern. The genus Pteris is probably most familiar to folks from the species P. vittata, the fern that grows in every crack of every wall along the gulf coast states and up to Savannah, GA or so.
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