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Fern Glossary and Propagation Guide

The Martha Stewart Show, January 2011

Tranquil, unassuming, and content to hover in the background, ferns can add texture and fullness to any garden palette. And because ferns have spores, they're easy to propagate into many new plants.

Favorite Ferns
There are more than 10,000 different species of ferns in the world. Choose the right one for your needs with this guide from horticulturist Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery:

Tatting Fern (Athyrium Filix-Femina)
A small deciduous fern, the tatting grows in a tight clump and does well in average soil.

Southern Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum Capillus-Veneris)

This deciduous fern features lacy foliage and it prefers moist to average soil.

Tongue Fern (Pyrrosia Lingua)

The tongue fern's bold texture is unusual among ferns. It's equally happy in soil or out, and it often grows on tree bark or rocks.

Upside-Down Fern (Arachniodes Standishii)

This fern's leaves appear to be upside-down, thus its name. With a lacy texture, the fern spreads slowly to make a nice ground cover.

Holly Fern (Cyrtomium Caryotideum)

With a prominent texture, this Asian native is evergreen and makes a nice houseplant.

Fern Propagation
The spores on ferns allow for a unique propagation method that can produce limitless new ferns. Tony Avent shares this easy how-to:

1. Locate spores -- which look like black, brown, or green bumps -- on the back of the fern leaf. Collect spores by placing a leaf in an envelope and letting it sit for a week. If they are ripe, spores should drop and appear as a dusty powder beneath the leaf.

2. Remove any chaff by tilting the envelope and lightly tapping. The chaff should fall, leaving only the spores behind.

3. Before sowing, pour boiling water over a pot filled with soil. This will prevent contamination of the propagation process. Sparsely spread the spores over the soil. Once sowed, seal the pot of spores in an airtight plastic bag. Leave sealed for about a month in the dark.

4. Once green, newly germinated sporelings appear, cover with water and shake lightly. Return to the bag and let sit for another month.

5. Transfer plants into a cell pack or other protective environment away from the light, and keep watered. Leaves will appear; once leaves are about 1/2 inch long, transfer plants to pots filled with coarse mixture and keep moist.