The Art Of Fern Dancing


Australian Tree Fern

Simply put, I’m a fern fan.

I love the way their fiddleheads appear in spring, the graceful uncurling, and the slow, almost teasing reveal of the finely cut fronds. Let’s face it: ferns are the dancers of the garden, ballet and burlesque all at once.

Australian Tree Fern

Not a bad for an old plant.

According to the American Fern Society, ferns have been around for a long time — a very, very long time. In fact, they’re even the stars of their own age — the Carboniferous Period, when ferns were the predominant vegetation.

Australian Tree Fern

It’s this lengthy history that enable ferns to play tricks with time. Enter a wooded glen with a fern carpet and it’s highly likely that you’ll see Robin Hood, a dinosaur, and a Victorian plant hunter all at the same time and quite comfortable with one another.

Australian Tree Fern

More than anything, it’s this igniting of the imagination that makes ferns a must for me. It’s as if in each of its fronds, in each of its spores, there’s a story that is the story of us.

Australian Tree Fern

I think that’s why I was determined to plant an Australian Tree Fern as an understory specimen in my zone 10 landscape.  One look at it, and I’m whisked away to another place and time. The equator? Sometimes. A rain forest?  Certainly.  The shore of some primordial prehistoric pond? Possibly.

Australian Tree Fern

More importantly, though, it’s that fern dance that’s so mesmerizing. Think of the Australian Tree Fern as a fern on steroids.  A furry fiddlehead rises from the center, slowly stretching out.  Then, each frond is its own fiddlehead, and these also unfurl and open.


And this process continues with the help of regular misting, even watering, heat, and humidity. In time, the Australian Tree Fern will have an 8’ spread and stand 15’ tall, which means I’ll be able to stand beneath a fern, imagining myself as something small in a faraway time and place.

Wordless Wednesday: The Visitor

Atala Butterfly

A few words for Wordless Wednesday. . .

It always amazes me how wildlife finds a garden. It’s kind of like Field of Dreams — if you plant it, they will come.

Since arriving in Zone 10, gardening and all that it encompasses has been a daily learning process. Planting times and plants and weeds and pests are all quite different from my Zone 6/7 upbringing — and so too are the beneficial visitors.

The other day, I spotted this fluorescent orange body with black wings frantically fluttering for a place to land. It settled on the one coontie (pronounced coon-tee) in the yard; a plant I purchased and planted; a plant that petered out and I dug up, repotted, and nursed back to health; a plant that remains in a pot because I’m not sure where it should be permanently placed.

Atala Butterfly

Coontie, a Florida native, is a cycad, one that the University of Florida IFAS Extension refers to as a “living fossil,” since it most certainly grew during the age of dinosaurs.

I’ve also since learned that it happens to be the solo larval host plant for the very rare Atala butterfly, my orange-bodied visitor that was once thought to be extinct in Florida.  The larvae are able to withstand the plant’s natural toxins, which are then incorporated into their tissue.  The bright colors on the larvae and adult butterflies are a warning to predators that they are toxic.

This Atala, once settled, spent a considerable amount of time on one narrow leaf — leaving behind the seeds of a future generation, a clear sign that this is where the coontie should have a permanent home.

Atala Butterfly Eggs



We Are A Part Of A Hyphen Nation

American Flag

This is one of those posts written at 3:00 am. I have a head cold and I’m awake. I couldn’t breathe — the congestion tide rolled back up into my sinuses and the only cure for me at the moment was gravity.  So, I’m sitting up and thinking — and these are the middle-of-the-night ramblings of a stuffy, sleepy me.

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Bloomin’ Update 54: My Mo-Bro In Slo-Mo


I’m always stunned when something sneaks up on me in the garden. Not a snake or a bear, but a plant.  I mean, I walk around the garden daily — as I’m sure all of you do — and I like to think that I notice most of what’s happening among the plants.

And then this happens — a bloom that wasn’t there yesterday is here today.

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August: Broward County

Desert Rose

I went to the theater last night, a very small venue hosting a show of eight short vignettes. By the end of the fourth one, it was clear that something was wrong. Very, very wrong.

The air conditioner had stopped working — and in zone 10, that can be an issue.

At intermission, the small audience stepped outside into the 90-degree, steamy south Florida night air to cool off — and a sort of camaraderie blossomed among the theatergoers. We were all sweaty soldiers determined to see the end of the play, despite the sauna-like conditions inside.

That’s when I overheard one female audience member say to her friend, “It’s because it’s August. It’s like the worst month.”

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