Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday: Resurrection Fern

Pleopeltis polypodioides is remarkably beautiful and resilient.
Photo credit: Ellen Honeycutt, south Georgia, Altama Plantation WMA
If you've seen it covering the limbs of an ancient oak tree you'll know what I mean by beautiful and if you've seen it shrivel up in a drought and resurrect when the rain returns, you will know what I mean by resilient.

Resurrection fern in Edwin Warner Park

The first time I noticed the tree was on a walk at Edwin Warner Park. I happened to look up and see  ferns covering all the limbs of a massive tree. It was magnificent and I pondered the many times I had walked beneath it before noticing it. Sometimes a wildflower enthusiast spends too much time looking down and misses the beauty that is just above them. Since then, I make sure to always look up when walking in a natural area...I don't want to miss anything.

 Univ of Florida
As I said earlier, resurrection fern is beautiful and incredibly resilient. When the weather is dry, it turns gray and shrivels up. It can lose 95 percent of it's moisture and survive. By contrast, many plants will be pronounced dead if they lose as little as 10 percent of their water content. When the rain comes, it will spring to life within a matter of hours, turning bright green and unfurling its fronds.

How does it accomplish this? Drying fronds curl with their bottom sides upward, this allows them to rehydrate quickly when rains return because most of the water is actually absorbed on the bottom of the fronds. The plant produces a chemical/substance called dehydrin. These dehydrins act as a lubricant so the cells fold in a manner that allows drying to be reversed. (source)

A fern like that should be in every one's garden! 


Pleopeltis polypodioides is found in hardwood forests throughout the Southeast, as far north as New York and as far west as Texas. Due to its ability to withstand drought, it can be found in a variety of habitats, but it needs a host plant on which to anchor itself. Resurrection ferns often favor oak trees and the one's I have seen in nearby woodlands have all been oaks.

The resurrection fern is a type of epiphytic fern, which means it grows on top of other plants. It is not a parasitic plant and does not harm the host plant. It gets its nutrients from the air and water. Like all ferns, it reproduces by spores, not seeds or fruit. The spores are housed in structures called sori on the underside of fronds.

Identifying Characteristics and Particulars

Botanical name: Pleopeltis polypodioides

Common name:  Resurrection fern

Family: Polypodiaceae

Habitat: It is found in many hardwood forest habitats. The plant is native to the eastern United States west to Texas and throughout the American tropics. Its most often seen growing on the branches or main stem of large trees like oaks. It's possible that they rely on mosses for moisture which indicates that they prefer a moist environment.  Situated in the crotches and  branches of large trees allows them to capture sunlight and moisture more easily. The photo below from my garden shows moss is present with the fern.

Mosses might provide some moisture to the ferns

Zone: 6 to 9 

Size/Form: This tiny, creeping fern has a long stem to which the fronds are attached. Extensive colonies of resurrection ferns can be formed in the open shade of trees. Fronds are usually 4 to 12 inches long and a very nice green. They are easy to maintain, don't harbor diseases. They offer a graceful note to any landscape design.

Height: 0.50 to 1.00 feet Spread: 0.50 to 1.00 feet

Stem: The long, horizontal, skinny stem is less than 1/12" in diameter and is attached to and creeps along the bark of large trees.

Leaves: The leathery, evergreen leaves are called fronds and are 4" to 12" long. The fronds are made of smaller, rounded, oblong blades alternately arranged but tending to become opposite.
spores on underside of fronds (source)

Reproduction: The spores are found in clusters, called sori, on the bottom of the blades near the edge. The sori appear as brown to black scales.

Bloom Time: Non-flowering. See Sori above.

Sun: Part shade to full shade

Water: Medium to maintain greenery, but, it will dry out during droughts and resurrect/green up when it rains

Wildlife value: From a wildlife point of view, ground ferns can give structure that provides foraging space and shelter for ground-feeding birds, while other critters, for example frogs and turtles, like to hide in them. (source) Resurrection fern lives in the trees and on some fallen limbs and is not without value. Stems, leaves, and flowers host microorganisms, creating a habitat called a phyllosphere, a term used in microbiology to refer to all above-ground portions of plants as habitat for microorganisms. I am not a microbiologist, but, I believe that these micro-organisms are often beneficial  to the host. Native people recognized resurrection ferns value. They used it a diuretic, a remedy for heart problems, and as a treatment for infections. Recent medical research is confirming some of these folklore reports and has shown that the extracts from the fern have anti-arrhythmic cardiac properties. (source)  

Maintenance: Little maintenance is required unless you want to keep it green. In nature it greens and dries up naturally and requires no care.

Comments: Resurrection ferns have even been to space. The Space Shuttle Discovery carried one onboard in 1997 to test the resurrection effect in zero gravity.

I repeat, A fern like that should be in every one's garden! But, it's not always easy to locate plants for sale. If you're lucky like me you might have a piece of bark from a fallen tree. Search the internet for nurseries that do not collect from the wild. Your local WildOne chapter or Native Plant Society might have members who will share plants with you. Don't be afraid to ask. Unfortunately, I haven't enough to share.

I hope you can find a source, let me know when you do.


Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday.  Thank you all for joining me as we start another year of sharing marvelous and beautiful wildflowers. I hope 2020 is the year we all plant more native wildflowers for the many critters that live in and visit our gardens. Let's be sure we celebrate them every day, not just WW. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not, you can still share them.  Please leave a comment and add your name to Mr Linky so others can pop over to see your Wildflower Wednesday post.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Vernal Witchhazel

I always think of my mother when ever I see the vernal witchhazels blooming in my garden.
Vernal witchhazels bloom in the winter of life and that is how it was with my mother. That may sound odd to you, but, my mother was a late bloomer. She bloomed in the winter of her life. In fact, it wasn't until she sold her house and moved into a retirement community that she really blossomed. It seemed perfectly natural that a memory tree for her would be Hamamelis vernalis. It is blooming beautifully right now.

 This is from the post I wrote when I planted it.
I planted it for my Mother
the spring she passed away.
For remembrance,
For honoring,
and because planting a witch hazel was
a funny nod to our complicated and loving relationship.

Hamamelis vernalis  blossoms in the winter
When we have just about given up hope
that spring will ever arrive.

On warm days
the crepe paper streamer petals unfurl and
its sweet scent drifts about.

Believe me when I tell you this~
I know that my mother is somewhere laughing
that her remembrance tree is a witchhazel.


I'm smiling thinking about her...and I'll be smiling tomorrow when I walk the garden and see those spidery blooms unfurled on a warm winter day.
In case you aren't familiar with this lovely small tree that is native to Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Arkansas, its flowers are an unusual orange/yellow/reddish color with four crepe paper streaming petals that unfurl as the day warms and furl back up when the temperature drops. This is a marvelous adaptive behavior that insures that the spidery blooms will survive the fluctuating winter weather and be in bloom for almost two months. A plant like that needs to be in every garden!

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Wildflower Wednesday: 2019 Roundup of Wildflower Stars

Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Happy Holidays to all.

A past Wildflower Wednesday Star.
I love gardening in the Middle South, but, this has been an especially challenging year. September had a record number of 90˚ days with no rain at all and we still are ending  2019 as the 5th wettest year in our record keeping history with over 61 inches of rain. Weird weather or as climatologists have said, "Expect extreme weather patterns." None the less, we are fortunate to have four seasons in the middle south; a mercifully short winter and a delightful spring and autumn which make up for the steamy hot and often too dry summer weather. The days are starting to lengthen and before long the earliest spring ephemerals will break dormancy and the gloriously long bloom of wildflowers will begin.

Here are the 2019 Wildflower Wednesday stars

January Wildflower Wednesday: Winter Blooming Witch Hazel

Hamamelis vernalis is a lovely native shrub/small tree that blooms when you have just about given up hope that winter will end and warmth will return to the world...In my Middle Tennessee garden it often begins blooming in early to mid January and it's not unusual for it to continue blooming into February and sometimes March.

Ozark witch hazel's flowers are an unusual reddish color with four yellow/orange crepe paper streaming petals that unfurl as the day warms and furl back up when the temperature drops. This is a marvelous adaptive behavior that insures that the spidery blooms will survive the fluctuating winter weather and be in bloom for almost two months.

They perfume the garden with their sweet clove vanilla scent on warm days. I planted them for the earliest visiting pollinators and for that unforgettable fragrance. Once you smell them, you will, want them in your garden, too.

I think they're spectacular in my mostly brown winter garden and I planted one along the front walkway so visitors can enjoy the blooms and their sweet scent.

February Wildflower Wednesday: Winged Elm

I almost missed the first of my native canopy trees in bloom! That's what happens when your eyes are searching for spring ephemerals on the woodland floor.

Look what you will see when you look up... the prettiest red flowers that pop against the blue sky.

Ulmus alata is the botanical name and those corky, ridged wings on young stems are a hallmark of this native tree. Winged elm is also called corked elm. It's a small- to medium-sized deciduous tree (in the best conditions they can be much taller) native to the southern and south-central woodlands of the United States. It has a vase-like shape, with lateral branches and a rounded, open crown.

Elms are host plants to over 200 butterfly and moth species (think important bird food) and squirrels and chipmunks eat the nutlets of the samaras. I've never seen this tree offered at a local IGC, but, it can be found at specialty tree farms and orchards (search online).

The tree is often grown in parking lot islands, medium strips, and along residential streets. Winged elm trees tolerate air pollution, poor drainage and compacted soil. Wow. Poor drainage and compacted soil~No wonder it's doing well at Clay and Limestone.

March Wildflower Wednesday: White Trout Lily

Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday and a celebration of one of my favorite spring ephemerals, the White Trout Lily.

Erythoniums is a genus of Eurasian and North American plants in the lily family. Of the nearly 25 species found in North America (mostly in western USA)  only 4 are found in Tennessee.  Those are: Erythronium rostratum, Erythronium umbilicatum, Erythronium americanum and Erythronium albidum.  Erythronium americanum, the yellow flowered trout lily (above) and E albidum the white flowered trout lily, are both found growing in Davidson county, TN where I live. The yellow flowered seems to be more abundant and on a recent walk I spotted them in bloom at the Warner Parks.

I feel so lucky to have found White Trout Lilies growing in my garden. I've seen small colonies in nearby woodlands and in a neighbors small sloped side yard. Of course, I hoped the flowers would be white not yellow. Don't get me wrong, I would have loved the yellows, but, there's something extra special about these sweet white flowers.

Wildflower Wednesday: Phlox pilosa is still a star

I love introducing you to new wildflowers, but, this month I want to honor a very old and dear wildflower friend. Practically Perfect Pink Phlox is our star....and what a star with fragrant delicate pink blooms that last for more than a month.

Phlox flowers are the classic butterfly plant with their perfect landing pad (flared petals), a narrow tube that is accessible to the long proboscis of butterflies and fragrant flowers that occur in loose, rounded clusters.  The long bloom time (6 weeks if the temperatures stay cooler) means there's plenty of nectar for pollinator visitors from early to mid-spring. I've seen butterfly, skippers, bumblebees, Minor bees, carpenter bees and Flower flies visiting. I've read that Hummers visit as well and since it's blooming late here, they might stop by, too.


May Wildflower Wednesday: Blephilia ciliata

Downy Wood Mint and I have been gardening friends for over 30 years. I met it the first summer after we moved into this house. It looked like Monarda growing in the shady freedom lawn behind the carport shed. Although, it wasn't Monarda, it was definitely a mint with its square stems, opposite leaves and whorled light lavender flowers at the top of the stalk!

I have never seen it growing in the wild, but, once upon a time my neighborhood was a woodland and there are still wildflowers growing in lawns and woodland edges. I wonder how many of my neighbors are even aware that this pretty and others might be growing along the edges of their yards.

As more people move into Nashville and older ranch homes are torn down our freedom lawns with Salvia lyrata, Western Daisies, Fog Fruit, Ruellia humilis, clover and other "lawn weeds" are herbicided away. It makes me very sad and motivates me to continue to advocate for planting for wildlife in our gardens through my garden writing.  

June Wildflower Wednesday: Asclepias syriaca

I am super excited to share Common milkweed with you today for Wildflower Wednesday. Three years ago I planted one small plant and now I have well over a three dozen plants and most bloomed. That's both wonderfully exciting and terrifying. Now, if only a Monarch butterfly would lay eggs and cats would start consuming the leaves!

Bumbles and other bees love the nectar and pollen rich flowers
It's an interesting looking plant with gorgeous flowers that smell delicious. It typically grows 3-4' tall on stout, upright stems with thick, broad-oblong, reddish-veined, light green leaves (to 8" long), although, in ideal conditions it can grow to be 6 foot tall.

It's a colonizer and when you plant one you can be guaranteed that there will be dozens before you know it. Trust me on this and plant it were you don't mind it taking off or be prepared to dig them up when young (taprooted, so transplant when young) to share with others. Yes, it's aggressive, but, planting milkweed is important to Monarch butterfly. Besides, you do need this fragrance in your garden.
balls of pink fragrant blooms

July Wildflower Wednesday: Hibiscus laevis

Welcome to Clay and Limestone and the July Wildflower Wednesday celebration. Please get comfy and let me tell you the story of how our star wildflower arrived in the garden.

Late this past spring we attended a gardening fair and I immediately started looking for native plant vendors. There were a few tables, but, only one vendor offered unusual natives and it was there that I spotted Hibiscus coccineus. It was a beautiful plant with well branched stems and a healthy root system, so I gladly bought it and carried the pot around while enjoying the show.

Hibiscus coccineus is not native to Tennessee, but long time readers know that I will occasionally push the native plant boundaries and add a non Tennessee native plant if it has something special going for it and Rose Mallow has that it quality! It meaning it's a dramatic and striking plant with bold palmately lobed leaves, glossy red flowers that bloom most of the summer and is beloved of hummingbirds.

 Of course I bought it!

The first blooms opened in late June, they were quite lovely, only they weren't big or red. Instead the blossoms were a lovely white with deep maroon throats.

My Rose Mallow was really Hibiscus laevis/halberd-leaved rose mallow. I feel so fortunate to have a new wildflower to celebrate and love in my garden.

August Wildflower Wednesday: Wild Senna

 Senna marilandica or  Senna hebecarpa

Let me be absolutely honest with you from the start. I have no idea if my plants are Senna hebecarpa or Senna marilandica. For many of us they're indistinguishable from one another until their seeds ripen. The pods look the same, but they behave differently, Senna hebecarpa seeds will be expelled from their pods, while the seeds of Senna marilandica will stay tightly enclosed within the seed pod for months. I'll come back and relabel this post as soon as I know which Senna I have.
Wild Senna is a perfect plant for any gardener who loves pollinators, especially lovers of the bumbles. It seems that bumbles are picky eaters and prefer plants with nutrient-rich pollen. Wild Senna is one of their preferred pollen sources.

How do I know this?

 A "2016 study by researchers at Penn State found that bumble bees preferentially visit flowers that produce pollen that has higher protein-to-lipid ratios, and wild senna was the favorite of bumble bees amongst the plants used in the study." In case you're curious,
spiderwort and Culver's root were also among the highest visited plants in the study.

This is a plant that belongs in every garden, especially pollinator gardens. I've only seen it offered online (most often as seeds). It's frustrating to see the same old same old perennials at nurseries when there are fantastic native plants that make the most sense for our gardens...but, I digress.

September Wildflower Wednesday: Euonymus americanus

Euonymus americanus is displaying its gorgeous ripened fruit in my garden. The stems and leaves are deer candy and I count myself lucky to have any of the brilliant red fruit on the shrub this fall.
photo taken at Edwin Warner Park

 Strawberry bush/Hearts-a-bustin' is a delicate, airy deciduous shrub that can grow to 10' tall under ideal conditions. Which means it's closer to 5 foot in my garden. It is native to wooded slopes, moist woodland and creek or river areas, and is found in a variety of soil conditions ranging from sandy to clay. The typical range is from New York coast all the way south and across Texas and inland to the midwest from all those points. (source)
 5 green petals which frequently have a reddish tinge

If a plant were to be chosen just for its bloom, Strawberry bush might not make the cut. Most people are under awed by the Spring flowers, in fact, they might even miss them. They are tiny and pale with 5 green petals that have a reddish tinge. In order to see them you are going to have to get quite close, which might mean getting down on your knees, since they're only 1/2 inch wide! I think they're worth crawling around on the woodland floor to see.

October Wildflower Wednesday: Zigzag Goldenrod

Our Wildflower Wednesday star is Solidago flexicaulis also known as zigzag goldenrod or broadleaf goldenrod. It's a rhizomatous (creeping rootstock) perennial that is native to rich woods and thickets from Nova Scotia to North Dakota south to Georgia and Arkansas.
Zigzag goldenrod is my favorite goldenrod. As regular readers know I love take care of themselves, rough and tumble, colonizing wildflowers with great wildlife value and this goldenrod fits the bill! Plants are tough and adaptable prospering in part sun or part shade and in moist well drained soil and more importantly, they're superfood for insects.

woodland ex-asters are great companion plants

According to the Wild Seed Project (wildseedproject.net) “Asters and goldenrods attract loads of late season pollinating insects. In the wintertime, they provide food and habitat for many birds and small animals that feast on the seeds and find shelter in the dried stalks."

November Wildflower Wednesday: Ostrya virginiana is still dancing in the garden

Can you see the dancer in the tree?

I do.

She's still there, dancing in the tree all year round. It's been forever ago that I first saw her; so long ago that I can no longer remember when. What I do remember is saving this beauty from an invasive Japanese Wisteria that was strangling it as it climbed snake like up the tree. It could have been my imagination, but, I know the tree breathed a sigh of relief when the wisteria was cut away.

It's a lovely small tree, that I would miss terribly if it weren't here. My goal has been to provide habitat for critters in a visually attractive space and Ostrya virginiana brings grace, beauty, while providing for wildlife.

Ostrya virginiana also provides shade for wildflowers and mosses to grow. Each spring when the sun warms the soil,  Trilliums, false rue anemones, spring beauties, toothworts and other spring ephemeral blooms crowd the woodland floor beneath her skirt.

Hophornbeams are totally under appreciated native trees that would be lovely in our gardens, if only we knew about them! You aren't going to find them at your local garden center, so you will have to search the internet or native plant nurseries. Trust me, this little understory woodland tree is worth the trouble to find.

My friends, I wish you a very Happy Wildflower Wednesday and thank you for planting more wildflowers. Thank you for taking care of the bees and other pollinators and all the critters that visit your gardens. Thank you for tolerating pesky wildlife that too often eat your favorite flowering plants. Thank you for another year of your friendship, visits, comments and joining me in celebrating wildflowers all over this great big wonderful world. You are the best and having you in my life has enriched it beyond measure.


Most of you have been very busy with the holidays, but, if you have the time to join this Wildflower Wednesday, just add your link to Mr. Linky and leave a comment. Please remember, it's not necessary for them to be in bloom!

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


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