The trunk of a tree fern is really just tough compressed roots growing downward through dead organic material left behind by earlier growth. The foliage and terminal shoot high on top is just like any other fern that never leaves the ground. Because such a trunk is porous, it is ideal for epiphytic plants that, in the wild, mostly cling onto trees instead of growing on the shadier forest floor. Even though most epiphytic plants are able to cling to just about anything, many prefer tree fern trunks because they can actually root into them.
The shaggy trunks of Tasmanian tree fern, Dicksonia antarctica, take decades to grow tall enough for smaller plants to be visible below the lush foliage, but are plump enough to host a rowdy party of clinging epiphytes. Most get only about four or five feet tall, with the foliage standing a few feet higher, although some old specimens in Golden Gate Park are more than fifteen feet tall, and very old specimens in their native Tasmania can get nearly fifty feet tall.
The big lacy leaves spread about six feet wide, and can reach twice as wide in shadier spots. Shade also makes the foliage darker rich green. Like almost all ferns, Tasmanian tree fern like relatively rich soil and regular watering. Unlike other tree ferns though, it tolerates frost.
If unpaved drainage ditches and collection ponds were more common locally, sweet flag, Acorus gramineus, might be also. It can provide a nicely neat border for such waterways, where the ground is too steep and damp for mowing. It can migrate into muddy situations and even into shallow water. Its dense network of fibrosus rhizomes helps to retain mud.
‘Variegatus’, with elegantly elongated and variegated leaves, is the most popular cultivar locally. It is rare in nurseries, but occasionally shared by friends and neighbors who grow it. Propagation by division is very easy. Single shoots or clumps of shoots grow if merely plugged into damp soil or mud. ‘Pusillus’ lacks variegation, and develops stouter leaves.
Sweet flag aggressively excludes other herbaceous vegetation, but does not migrate too rapidly. Plucking shoots and plugging them elsewhere accelerates migration. The dense foliage might get a foot deep. Individual leaves are very narrow, like grass. The mundane bloom is easy to ignore and is uncommon where the soil is not often saturated or muddy.
Ducks somehow find water. They eventually visit most home garden ponds that they can fit into. Duckweed, Lemna minor, is likely to come with them. It adheres to waterfowl and other wildlife for that purpose. It proliferates very efficiently, and almost typically becomes a nuisance. Eventually, proliferation in a healthy pond should stabilize to a tolerable rate.
Individual duckweed plants are tiny. Their oval leaves are typically less than a quarter of an inch long. Each floating leaf extends its single root less than three quarters of an inch into the water below. Plants produce no more than four rooted leaves before dividing into a few smaller plants to repeat the process. Bloom and subsequent seed are uncommon.
As a floating aquatic plant, prolific duckweed might obscure koi and submergent aquatic plants within garden ponds. However, it also helps stabilize healthy aquatic ecosystems. In fact, it is useful for bioremediation of agricultural and industrial applications. It absorbs detrimental substances from water, while producing fodder and biomass for composting.
Although not directly toxic, canna has a unique reputation of lethality. Its spherical seeds are so hard that they were historically used as shot. Many victims are now pushing up daisies. Those who survived were pulling out cannas.
Old fashioned varieties that get up to six feet tall seem to be at least as popular as shorter modern varieties that get less than half as tall, probably because their bold foliage is as appealing as their colorful but awkwardly structured flowers. The big leaves can be cool green, rich reddish bronze or variegated. Red, orange, yellow, pink or rarely white flowers that bloom from summer to autumn are striking amongst the lush foliage, but are too perishable to be good cut flowers.
Stems that have finished blooming should be cut to the ground to promote more colorful new foliage and bloom. Mature colonies (of rhizomes) can be divided while dormant through winter if they get crowded enough to inhibit bloom every few years.
The biggest lawn where I work for part of the week was formerly a pond. It was installed above an extensive drainage system to compensate for the natural saturation of the soil. A relatively small pond remains at the lowest corner of the large lawn to contain some of the runoff, which gets pumped back onto the lawn for irritation. However, this pond had drained and became overwhelmed by vegetation many years ago. Only recently, after the removal of the overwhelming vegetation, the pond was restored by the simple closure of its drainage gate. It is developing into a different sort of riparian ecosystem from what it was for the past several years, which was different from what it was before that.
1. Cattail and Himalayan blackberry overwhelmed this area many years ago. We knew it as the corn dog orchard because of the cattail bloom. This is what remains of the cattail.
2. Cottonwood appeared several years ago. They grew in a small grove of several slender trunks, perhaps from a single root system of a primary tree. These two are flooded now.
3. Knotweed proliferated on the margin of the newly flooded pond. Some got submerged where it grew while the water was lower. I hope that it dies like the submerged bramble.
4. Weeping willow enjoys the swampy situation here. The newly flooded pond might not bother it much. The soil is naturally saturated within a minimal depth from the surface.
5. Water lily seems happy here too, although one of the six that were installed is missing. One specimen has about twenty leaves. I could not take a picture of it without reflection.
6. Fountains are supposed to dissuade proliferation of mosquitoes. I do now know what to think of it. Everyone else (except mosquitoes) likes it though. That is more important.
Of the few native species that share the same designation of ‘red willow’, Salix lasiandra, is likely the most common locally. However, it has a few other common names, including shining willow and Pacific willow. For those acquainted with it, recognition is easier than nomenclature. It is not a problem though, since red willow is rarely an intentional choice.
Red willows, including less common species, grow wild in local riparian situations. They sometimes sneak into home gardens, particularly if irrigation is generous. Their rampant growth is susceptible to spontaneous limb failure. Pruning can compensate for structural deficiency of young trees. However, trunks typically succumb to decay within thirty years.
Mature trees are mostly less than thirty feet tall, typically with low branches, and possibly with a few elegant trunks. The gray or light brown bark is finely furrowed. The deciduous foliage has a slight sheen, and then turns brownish yellow prior to autumn defoliation. Its narrow leaves are about three inches long. Twigs are yellowish or green rather than red, as it implies.
New spring foliage will soon be obscuring the rusty red or light yellow stems of osier dogwood, Cornus sericea (or Cornus stolonifera). Because this odd dogwood is grown for these distinctively colorful stems instead of blooms, it can be pruned harshly before foliation, to promote more twiggy growth for next winter. Unpruned plants form thickets five to ten feet high and ten or more feet broad. The flowers are actually rather pathetic relative to those of other dogwoods, since they lack colorful bracts. Where exposed to frost, the opposing two or three inch long and one or two inch wide leaves can provide nice reddish autumn color.
On the West Coast between British Columbia and Mexico, the largest native fern might be the giant chain fern, Woodwardia fimbriata. In sheltered and damp coastal forests, it can get taller than six feet, although it is typically about three feet tall and wide in home gardens. The lightly colored and almost yellowish green fronds generally stand upright and flare outward from the center. The foliage is doubly lobed and lacy, but quite substantial. The thick rhizomes spread rather slowly. Established plants are remarkably resilient. They can tolerate almost full sun exposure if watered enough. Those in partial shade can tolerate lapses of watering. However, they do not recover too readily from relocation or division.
There was nothing common or soft about Rush, the innovative hard rock band of the seventies and eighties. Juncus effusus is only known as soft rush because the spiky and sharply pointed ‘foliage’ appears to be stiff, but is actually quite soft. It is common because in has such a vast natural range, including North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. It does not like hard rock, but instead prefers rich and moist soil, and will even be happy in soil that is too damp for other plants. Common rush tolerates a bit of shade but prefers good exposure. Because winters are too mild to freeze it back to the ground naturally, overgrown or discolored common rush can be cut down and then left to regenerate as winter ends.
The distinctive ‘foliage’ is not actually foliage. The minute leaves are unimpressive brown scales that do not do much at the base of each of the many upright green stems that function like foliage. The top six inches or so of each of these spike like stems is actually a bract that extends above the dangling but uninteresting tan or dingy yellow flowers that hang to the side. Collectively, the stems and bracts form distinctively sculptural clumps that radiate upward and outward. Healthy clumps are not much more than three feet high and wide.
Too much water can be as much of a problem as not enough. Too much direct sun exposure can likewise be as much of a problem as not enough sunlight. Scotch moss, Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’, wants regular but not excessive watering, and only a bit of shade without darkness. To propagate, pieces with roots can be torn from healthy plants and ‘plugged’ (planted) as new plants where more are desired in early spring or autumn.
The remarkably finely textured and dense foliage makes a nicely refined ground cover for confined spots, or fills in the spaces between stones in a wall or walkway. It gets only about an inch deep, with tiny and obscured stems that get no longer than four inches. Stems develop roots where they touch the ground to creep any farther. The tiny and narrow leaves do not get much longer than a quarter inch. Tiny white flowers that bloom late in spring may not get noticed. What distinguishes Scotch moss from richly deep green Irish moss is that it is instead yellow or almost chartreuse.