October 2017 Fern Society

On October 19, San Diego Fern Society will study Selaginellas. Photos from Kathie Russell and Jay Amshey will show these interesting plants. Also, Kathie will divide up a couple of Selaginellas to share with everyone in attendance. Selaginella kraussiana, a relatively common and easy Lycophyte can be divided. A terrarium plant from the late Amna Cornett will also be available. Our meeting is at 7:30pm on Thursday October 19, Casa del Prado Room 101, Balboa Park. Start your evening with seasonal treats from Kathy Thomson.

Report on September meeting

In September, San Diego Fern Society was privileged to have Herb Halling, a grower of Platyceriums as well as other interesting plants in the Los Angeles area. Herb shared from his three months in China, touring botanical gardens. On this trip he found just a few Platyceriums but he enjoyed the sights and culture of China, and it was the adventure of a lifetime! Several styles of Chinese gardens were shown in his photos, and Herb hopes to return to China soon.

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Bruce Barry and Kathy Thomson prepared and brought in a variety of Chinese foods for all to enjoy, including cooked ferns! Photos credit Kathy Thomson.

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Photo above credit Kathie Russell.

Selaginellas to share

Those attending the October meeting may take home one or more varieties of Selaginella. The plan is to divide some so that all may enjoy trying these unique plants. We have Selaginella kraussiana and terrarium grown plants tentatively identified as Selaginella martensii.

Attendees are welcome to bring Selaginellas for Show and Tell.

What are Lycophytes?

Lycophytes include the three plant groupings, Lycopodiales, Selaginellales and Isoetales. These are all vascular plants, that is, having specialized tissue to conduct water, minerals and sugars. The veins of a leaf are the strands of vascular tissue. Lycophytes have a unique type of leaf called a microphyll. A single vein serves this simple leaf, which does not have a stalk like most fern fronds or leaves of seed plants.

The Lycophytes include Isoetes, Selaginella, Lycopodium, Lycopodiella and Huperzia. Along with Equisetums and Psilotums, these plants were formerly known as the Fern Allies. They are vascular plants and produce spores. In various fern books the category of Fern Allies is used, and these plants are often studied with ferns. Many grow well in the same conditions as some of the ferns. However, current botanists have classified them differently and the term Fern Allies is no longer suggested. Rather, Isoetes, Selaginella, Lycopodium, Lycopodiella and Huperzia are classed as Lycophytes. Now, Equisetums (Horsetails) and Psilotums (Whisk Ferns) are considered ferns.

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This view from the San Diego Fern Show in 2011 shows three different hanging Lycopodium plants. Also visible lower in the photo are two species of Equisetum. The Lycopodiums are Lycophytes while the Equisetums are classed with ferns. Photo credit Kathie Russell.

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This Whisk Fern shown by Don Callard in the San Diego Fern Show in 2013 is Psilotum complanatum, considered a true fern but challenging to grow. The more common and smaller Psilotum nudum has many cultivars and often finds its way into San Diego gardens. Photo credit Kathie Russell.

It is wise to understand the changing classifications since the previous terminology, Fern Allies, is in many useful Fern books. However, fern hobbyists do not need to know everything about classifications to enjoy their plants!

Moran, R. (2004). A natural history of ferns. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

The Selaginellas

Selaginellas are found in many growing environments from deserts to rain forests. The common name for these plants, Spike Moss, suggests their appearance. Most are small or medium in size and grow in the ground. A few are epiphitic, on trees. Their mossy texture makes them an interesting addition to rock gardens, or as ground cover in the fern area.

There are about 750 Selaginella species but perhaps just 20 or so are in cultivation. The ornamental tropical and subtropical Selaginellas prefer humidity, moist soil and warm temperatures. They can actually become invasive in their preferred growing conditions, so care should be taken in planting them. This is unlikely to be a problem in dry San Diego gardens. Some Selaginellas are cultivated in terrariums.

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View inside a terrarium prepared by Amna Cornett with an assortment of Selaginellas, at San Diego Fern Show in 2015. Photo credit: Kathie Russell.

Selaginellas produce spores, but two kinds, female megaspores and male microspores. The larger megasporangia are generally at the base of the cone, and the smaller microsporangia at the tip. In the United States, native species in the West are mostly terrestrial or on rocks. In the eastern US, nearly all are terrestrial, with occasional occurrence on rocks among mosses.

Hoshizaki and Moran (Reference 3) suggest three groupings of Selaginellas, based on growth form. As with ferns, the size and shape of the plant and its cultural needs are important in choosing a growing site.

Mat-like growth: These Selaginellas are leafy and creeping, with a similar appearance to mosses. The roots grow out at the branch forks. Selaginella kraussiana is probably the most commonly grown Selaginella in our area and presumably in the US. With its long-creeping stems, it will spread in the garden and may be used for a ground cover. Plants are hardy to cold in the lower elevations and coastal areas of the western, southern and southeastern US. Selaginella kraussiana is native to Africa but has spread and become naturalized in the tropics and subtropics. It has naturalized from Virginia to Alabama and even in some wetlands of northern California. Cultivars of this plant are sometimes available in nurseries, such as 'Aurea,' 'Brownii,' and 'Gold-tips.' It is suggested for growing in a pot or basket as an indoor plant as well.

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Selaginella kraussiana shown at 2017 San Diego Fern Show, grown by Kathie Russell. A saucer with drainage provided enough soil mix for this plant. Photo credit: Kathie Russell. Below: Selaginella kraussiana 'Gold Tips'. Photo credit: David Stang, Creative Commons.

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Another Selaginella with mat-like growth is S. uncinata, commonly known as Blue Spike Moss or Peacock Moss. Of course, this plant is not a moss. It is desirable for its blue color and iridescence. Growing in low light promotes the interesting color. Selaginella uncinata is native to southern China. Again, plants tolerate some cold and have become naturalized in the southeastern US. In warm, moist conditions, S. uncinata can be used as a ground cover.

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Selaginella uncinata growing in a greenhouse at the US Botanic Garden, Washington DC. Note the bluish color above and lighter green colors in plant below. Photos credit: Kathie Russell.

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Frond-like growth: Some Selaginellas have a more ferny look. Selaginella willdenovii, sometimes called the Peacock Fern, is a climbing species. Erect or sprawling, the stems may extend 20 feet. The leaves show blue iridescence in deep shade. Native to tropical Asia and islands, this plant is tender to cold.

Selaginella martensii grows about six inches tall. The growth form looks like fern fronds in a rich dark green with lighter green undersides. As this plant is semi-tender it is a candidate for garden growing where humidity can be maintained. Otherwise, it can be grown in a container in medium shade. It is native to Central America.

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A terrarium Selaginella, tentatively identified as Selaginella martensii. Below: Another view into the terrarium.
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Rosette growth: The Selaginella of most interest with rosette growth is Selaginella lepidophylla, sometimes called the Resurrection Plant. It is semi-hardy and native to the southwestern US and Mexico. Plants tolerate high light and grow best in moist-dry conditions with good drainage, to about four inches tall. The plant curls into a ball when dry, then opens out to a flat rosette with water. Even a dead plant can absorb water and show this action.

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Selaginella lepidophylla. Photo credit: Kristian Peters, Creative Commons. Below: Dry. Photo credit: Riki, Creative Commons.

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Selaginella emmeliana growing in a greenhouse at the US Botanic Garden, Washington DC. This plant is an upright or spreading rosette. New plants start when pieces break off.

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Selaginella bigelovii in Mission Trails Park. Photos credit: Kathie Russell.

Selaginellas of San Diego County

The Plant Atlas of San Diego Natural History Museum records four species of Selaginellas. The deserts seem to have just one, S. eremophila. Although not especially common, it is easy to find this Selaginella in the lower desert, especially in winter/spring. Look for this plant sometimes called Desert Mossfern or Desert Spikemoss in rocky shaded canyons, below 3000 feet elevation. A less common Selaginella is S. asprella, the Bluish Mossfern. It grows on the desert side of the Laguna Mountains at higher elevations, above 5000 feet. Both of these Selaginellas have stems that are prostrate or decumbent, against the ground or rock.

Selaginella cinerascens, the Mesa Mossfern or Gray Spikemoss, grows in coastal areas. It often is found on bare slopes and mesas in areas below 1000 feet elevation. This plant is recorded in Balboa Park and eastward into Alpine. Plants also grow close to the ground, forming a carpet-like gray-green covering about a half inch high.

Also in coastal locations and extending over the mountains are plants of Selaginella bigelovii, the Bigelow's Mossfern or Bushy Spikemoss. This species of Selaginella is common and can readily be seen at Mission Trails Park. Plants have upright stems, rooted at the base, and may be two to eight inches high. The San Diego Plant Atlas shows it in coastal areas such as near Del Mar and also Jamul, Palomar Mountain, Julian, and more. It is found only in California and Baja, on rocky banks.

Viewing plants in nature is a privilege to enjoy, and it is important to respect the plants in parks and preserves. None of these local Selaginellas would be considered useful as a garden plant.

1. Beauchamp, R. M. (1986). A flora of San Diego County, California. National City CA: Sweetwater River Press.
2. Lellinger, D. B. (1985). A field manual of the ferns & fern-allies of the United States & Canada. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
3. San Diego County Plant Atlas/Herbarium of the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Coming in November

For November, we expect Dr. Michael Kelner to share about plant toxicology and how ferns and other plants may be useful in medicine. He has special interest in cancer drugs related to Bracken Fern. Perhaps your favorite plant will turn out to be the remedy for a health concern. The possibilities are limitless.

San Diego Fern Society Officers

Kathy Thomson kmthomson@att.net
1st Vice President OPEN
2nd Vice President
Bart Keeran
Kathie Russell klrkath@yahoo.com
Jay Amshey coastbiomaterials@cox.net
Board Members:
Bruce Barry
Bob Charlton kwyjibo@san.rr.com
Richard Lujan
Past President
Don Callard dcallard@san.rr.com

Webmaster: Bob Charlton kwyjibo@san.rr.com

Fern Society email

Bring $12 cash or check to a meeting or mail to:
San Diego Fern Society
2350 Jennifer Ln
Encinitas CA 92024

The San Diego Fern Society was formed to provide a source of information on ferns; to arrange for people to study ferns together; and to encourage the use and enjoyment of ferns in gardens, patios, and the home.

The Society aims to encourage all horticultural activities by example, education, exhibits, and donations; to interest people in the beauty and satisfaction to be found in garden, patio and home living; to promote and stimulate interest in ferns; to encourage and develop culture of various types and varieties of ferns; to provide for the exchange and dissemination among Society members of information relating to culture of ferns.

Volume XXXXI, Number 10