Identify fern with split frond

Moccasin(z9aMobileAL)February 5, 2009

Last year my neighbor gave me what she calls a "fishtail fern" and it is not phased by the cold weather recently encountered here in south Alabama. However, it is nothing like the plant identified as a "fishtail fern" in the online references I searched.

The plant is a medium green, about 12-15" tall. The end of each frond is what splits into a fishtail, more like a fantail fish. The stem itself splits, and the green petals are not bi- or tri-lobed, all are straight and plain.

Does anyone have a suggestion where I might go to identify this sturdy plant? It is presently living beside my koi pond in semi shade.

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harrywitmore(Zone7 NC)

I'm sure a picture would help us with an id. Does it grow in a rosette or does it creep along the ground? I really can't get a sense of what you have yet.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2009 at 3:58PM
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thefreddo(Redwoods in CA)

There is a Dryopteris filix-mas that has a form with the common name "fishtail fern", and it fits your description. It would be good to provide the latin name of the fern you found online so we can rule that one out. A picture is best for IDing your plant.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2009 at 2:06PM
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Ok, here is a couple of photos of this fern. It appears to be doing very well with no mulch cover, although it is planted close to the south side of our house, near the koi pond. Each frond splits and then each split seems to split again and then again in some instances.

and as you can see in the first photo, it split once, and the ends of each split are about to do it again. Now look at this one, an older frond, which is actually only ONE MAIN FROND, with multiple splits

    Bookmark   February 6, 2009 at 4:19PM
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thefreddo(Redwoods in CA)

That's definitely not the Dryopteris filix-mas I suggested. I've never seen your fern before, but it looks like it may be a Nephrolepis. After looking in "The Fern Grower's Manual" by Hoshizaki and Moran, I see a listing for Nephrolepis falcata "Furcans" that has a common name of "Fishtail sword fern" that may be what you've got. However it says the fronds are divided only once or twice, and unfortunately, there is no picture of it...


    Bookmark   February 8, 2009 at 4:05AM
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thefreddo(Redwoods in CA)

I should say that the fern is described as "forked" one or two times, not "divided".


    Bookmark   February 8, 2009 at 4:31AM
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thefreddo(Redwoods in CA)

Oops! Not only did I mis-read the entry for the fern I named, there IS a drawing of it, and it is not what you have.

How embarrassing. Boy, I wish we could edit posts here at Garden Web. My apologies.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2009 at 4:41AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Believe me, we ALL wish that we could edit our posts.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2009 at 10:13AM
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Sometimes I ask my questions too quickly, before I search enough. But this time, I am not having any luck. The fact that this fern which splits or forks near the tips of its fronds and then continues to grow, sometimes to fork again, is one of the pass-along type of plants makes it even more an enigma. I'd think it would be quite well known, or at least to fern fanciers like yourselves. So I will continue to look, hoping someone runs across the proper name for it sometime down the road.

Thanks for taking the time to search. I don't have the references you mention.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 5:53PM
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You don't live next door to any nuclear power plants do you? ;-)

Sorry, could not resist, I love the fern though... I wonder if it would grow up here, I have a feeling it would not...

    Bookmark   February 12, 2009 at 4:40PM
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You know, homemommy, I am beginning to wonder if I am faced with something similar to a toxic reaction here. Just kidding, of course. However, I have a large bird-nest fern which now has a split-tail frond also!! I have lately done a lot of reading about ferns trying to identify the "fish-tail" or "turkey-tail" ferns in my outdoor garden, and here I have an inside fern trying to do the same thing. I'm wondering: is this a reaction to mistreatment, either too much water, not enough nutrients, times of drought like late last summer in Alabama, or maybe the sanding dust from my husband's porch construction efforts.

I've gone so far as to submit the photos to the American Fern Society forums, so time will tell if anyone there has an AHA! moment.

Never realized how much I truly enjoy having ferns around, until I started totalling up the ones I have in my yard. Outdoor ferns are the ones I cannot live without. Especially the Japanese holly ferns, the Kimberly Queens, the asparagus ferns, the foxtails. And the true asparagus officinalis is almost like a vine this year. I also have a West Indies variegated holly fern that I found up in Chelmsford MA which I still have in a pot here, but will send it outdoors in about a month.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2009 at 11:45AM
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Could it be Nephrolepis exaltata cv. 'Petticoat'?

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 4:51PM
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The nephrolepis seems right. But in another reference, they made it n. cordifolia cv Petticoat, and not n. exaltata cv Petticoat.

The cordifolia is considered invasive in Florida. I will have to dig up my plant and look at the root system. They say the cordifolias spread by spores AND tuberous growths.

I appreciate the photo you showed, because so far yours is the only one. However, the leaves or pinnae (?) are flat and plain, not ruffled. But the rest of the plant, including the way it splits and keeps splitting, does look like my plant.

Somewhere in Blanche Dean's FERN book, she mentions that there was one outstanding plant she saw at a flower show which had one root system and SEVEN DIFFERENT frond patterns. So it could be a n. cordifolia but I won't rule out the n. exaltata! I am inclined to call this fern
a "shape-shifter."

Thanks for the photo.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 6:23PM
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Okay. Latest on this fern:
The little widow lady who lives behind us, came over to visit. Since she has gardened a long time, I asked her to look at this fern. She took one look, and said without a
blink, "Oh, that is a turkeytail fern."

Which brings it closer to the Petticoat type, only the pinnae are plain and flat, not ruffled.

As soon as all the tree crew work is done and my yard is back in my sole possession, I'm going to dig up one of those plants and look at the root. If it has the "balls" on the root system, it will be the cordifolia of some kind.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 12:24PM
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