Ferns with Feet

Ferns with Feet

Ferns with Feet

Davallia fejeensis rhizomes up close
Notice the shallow pot.

Rabbit’s foot, bear’s paw, kangaroo paw, green worm. What do all these names have in common? They all describe types of “footed” ferns. The “feet” are really rhizomes that creep and crawl across the top of the soil surface, sometimes even covering and surrounding the pot. Of course, they may be crawling across rocks or some other surface. I had a rabbit’s foot fern on a Hawaiian rock, but it unfortunately contracted a horrible case of scale and now resides in the trash. These ferns are quite susceptible to scale. They can be treated, but I decided it wasn’t worth risking my other plants, and so got rid of it. 
My rabbit’s foot fern looks the best of the four types of these ferns I have. It is in a shallow container, and that is all the soil it needs. The rhizomatous ferns have shallow root systems. They creep along the ground or over rocks in their native habitats. They will all thrive in moderate to bright light. Mine are in an East window and are doing well.  Obviously from the picture, you can see the kangaroo paw fern isn’t doing quite as well. It looked great when I bought it, but has gone down hill since. I’ve re-potted it and am hoping it turns around.

Top view of rabbit’s foot fern

These ferns come from South East Asia, Japan, and Australia. The rabbit’s fern comes from Fiji, thus the botanical name.  They can be epiphytic or terrestrial, they like high humidity and bright, filtered light, and  need well-drained soil. Never let them dry out too much. I have done that to my caterpillar fern and it loses some leaves, but comes back just fine. Of course, I don’t recommend this, but I think the rhizomes hold an extra amount of moisture, and this feature has saved my plant more than once. They really want to stay evenly moist. They are great plants for hanging baskets, as their “feet” can be seen better from below. I have mine on plant stands, so they are visible. 
They are able to be propagated quite easily. They can be separated or started from a piece of rhizome. Cut a piece of rhizome away from the plant, making sure it has a frond attached to it. Lay the rhizome on top of the soil surface and pin it down to the soil to keep it upright. Keep it moist and it should root and take off creeping across the soil in no time.

Caterpillar fern~Polypodium formosanum

The caterpillar fern is also called the worm fern, the E.T. fern, and the naked rabbit’s foot fern. This is a good example of why the Latin name should always be used to identify your plants. These are four names for the same plant and there may be more. If I identify it by using the Latin name, Polypodium formosanum, there will never by any question about which plant I am referring to.

Top view of Polypodium formosanum
Polypodium formosanum up close

This is the kangaroo paw. It was very beautiful and full when I bought it. It is looking better now that I’ve re-potted it, but still has a lot of recovering to do.

Kangaroo Paw~ Microsorium diversifolium


These pictures of the bear’s paw fern, are from Phipp Conservatory. My plant is young, and the rhizomes aren’t very prominent, so I used these pictures instead. The Phipp Conservatory is a wonderful place, by the way. I didn’t have much time there, but could have spent all day.

Bear’s paw fern~ Aglaomorpha meyeniana
Bear’s paw fern at Phipp Conservatory in Pittsburgh

Try one of these unusual, interesting ferns. They aren’t your run-of-the-mill ferns and they can be a real conversation piece. They are great plants for children also. They can’t help but be interested in fuzzy, wormy-looking plants. Who wouldn’t be? 

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