STYLE

Luxuriant growth, fuzzy 'feet' among the pleasures of rabbit's foot fern

02/03/2015 07:38 EST | Updated 04/05/2015 05:59 EDT
There's a fat, furry, tan foot creeping over the edge of the pot in the hanging basket over my desk. No cause for alarm. It just shows that my plant is growing happily.

That foot is a hairy, creeping stem of rabbit's foot fern. Taking the basket down off its hook, I see that the plant has other feet making their way to the edge of the pot. New leafy fronds spring forth from the topsides of these feet.

Besides its interesting feet, rabbit's foot is, among ferns, relatively easy to grow.

Ferns became popular houseplants during Victorian times because of their lushness and tolerance for relatively dim conditions. In those days, however, homes were cooler and moister, and thus more to the liking of ferns.

Rabbit's foot ferns can tolerate drier and warmer conditions than most other ferns. In their natural habitat, in southeast Asian jungles, these ferns nestle between rocks or in the crotches of trees, rather than growing in soil.

Rabbit's foot is not the only fern with feet. Common names of some of its relatives include deer's foot fern, squirrel's foot fern and Polynesian foot fern. Rabbit's foot, though, is the most commonly offered of the lot, and the best because it is evergreen and has the largest feet. Squirrel's foot fern, incidentally, has red "fur."

I attribute the health of my fern to the good drainage of the potting mix in which it grows and the cool, bright room that it calls home. Any potting mix can be made similarly suitable for this plant with some extra perlite or gravel. And the pot must, of course, have drainage holes.

The plant's exuberant growth is striking. Mine started out in a small pot at a western window a couple of autumns ago, and remained demure through its first winter. A slightly larger pot and the brightness of spring then spurred 2-foot-long fronds that threatened to gobble up that corner of the room, or at least push the plant off the windowsill. The plant has since moved again, this time to a large hanging basket where it can freely spread its lush, 2-to-3-foot-long, rippling fronds in all directions.

With such luxuriant growth, you might wonder what I'll do when all the rabbit's feet this plant can muster have bailed out of the pot. That's when I'll make new plants by merely cutting off some pieces of feet with roots attached and pressing them, without burying them, into fresh pots of soil.

Rabbit's foot ferns, like rabbits, multiply quickly.

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