Houseplant Fern: Selaginella tamariscina

Most of the nearly 700 known species of selaginellas grow in the damp twilight of subtropical and tropical forests. They are also to be found, of course, in the forests of central Europe and some species exhibit quite atypical behaviour: in the southern United States of America and Mexico, for example, at higher elevations (above 1,000 to 1,500 m [3,300 to 5,000 ft]) one may encounter Selaginella lepidophyl-la (resurrection plant), which grows in partly shaded as well as sunny locations where dry periods lasting several months are quite common. The plant effectively counteracts this by curling into a tight ball that ‘comes to life’ with the first rains (this is known as hydrochasia).

The S. tamariscina is native to the forests of China, where it grows in the damp undergrowth. Only rarely is it encountered in cultivation, even though it is one of the loveliest species and is no more difficult to grow than the others.

It should be planted in dishes containing a mixture of peat, loam and sand. Because of their high humidity requirements, selaginellas are particularly well suited for growing in demijohns, fishbowls, aquater-rariums and glass plant-cases, where they do well even in places with poor light. There is no need to worry that other plants will suffer from their presence for they have a very shallow root system and are low growing. The species, for example, reaches a height of 5 to 15 cm (2 to 6 in). The nurseryman will doubtless also have other species suitable for growing indoors, such as S. emmeliana, S. martensii and S. pallescens.

At home selaginellas can be propagated only by vegetative means. Many species have branches that rest on the surface of the soil and root along their entire length. All that needs to be done is to cut off such a rooted portion and grow it separately. Another possible method is by cuttings — broken off ‘branches’ which are inserted in peat.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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