Rock Polypody: One Helluva Tough Fern

Reader Contribution by Barry Glick and Sunshine Farm And Gardens
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I was strolling through the woodland areas of my nursery the other day when I noticed how nicely the Polypodiums had tucked themselves in for the winter. They had nestled themselves under a cozy blanket of fallen leaves from the oaks and maples that had shaded them during the growing season.

I then came to the realization that I’ve been neglectful in sharing this very charming, little evergreen fern with you. Please accept my sincere, heartfelt apology for that selfish indiscretion and read on. Polypodium virginianum aka the “Rock Polypody” is native to just about every state east of the Mississippi, Alaska, almost every province in Canada and all the way north up to Greenland and Iceland.

The name for the genus comes from the Greek polus, “many,” and podos, “foot” — “many footed”. There are about 75-100 species in the genus, mostly tropical, believe it or not. There are both terrestrial and epiphytic species in the genus.

If you’ve ever travelled to Charleston, S.C., you may have visited the Angel Oak, a 1,500-year-old Quercus virginiana. This “Live Oak” is covered with the epiphytic species, Polypodium polypodioides, the “Resurrection Fern”. Many other trees in the Southern U.S. are covered with this epiphytic species. But back to this species, Polypodium virginianum. To grow it requires no master’s degree in gardening or landscape architecture or any particularly colored thumb. It’s really quite simple! Just give it some average to moist shade and don’t bury the roots too deeply into the soil.

In my gardens and in the naturally occurring colonies on my farm, it sprawls itself over sandstone boulders in a very thin layer of soil and organic debris. Drought tolerance is another merit, as it easily survived more than six weeks with no rain this summer and didn’t bat an eye. The rugged yet delicate, dark green, glossy fronds look great all year round and disappear magically as the new fronds emerge, so you’ll never have a bare spot. The 2-4-inch wide, 6-12-inch long fronds reach up about 3 to 6 inches as the plant spreads slowly and gracefully into a colony by branched, creeping rhizomes.

This is the perfect fern for any shade garden or along the path of any shade border. And just in case you were wondering, none of the wild critters that inhabit these here mountains have ever even looked at this plant.

Good companion plants are Hostas, Hellebores and just about any other type of ferns or wildflowers. But you really don’t need companion plants as a colony of Polypodium is quite dramatic on its own and never seems to long for companionship.

Barry GlickfoundedSunshine Farm & Gardensin 1972 on 60 acres in Greenbrier County, West Virginia.  His plant collection now numbers more than 10,000 taxa, many unknown to cultivation. Several of these plants have been introduced to gardening in recent years. Barry exchanges seeds and plants with people at arboretums, botanic gardens, nurseries and private gardens in virtually every country in the world. Peruse Barry’s speakers serieshere and read the rave reviews here. If you have any questions, would like to chat about any plants that Barry offers, send an email to his personal email address. Read all of Barry’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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