Pyrrosia rupestris and Pyrrosia confluens
This is the “rock felt fern”, Pyrrosia rupestris.
Despite its name, it is just as happy on trees.
I photographed this beautiful plant at Queen Mary Falls (Killarney) yesterday. You can clearly see that the plant is coming into its fertile period, as it has as many of the long fertile leaves as it has little round infertile ones.
The spore bodies on the backs of fern fronds are usually worth a look. Not only are the part of the beauty of the plant, they also help to identify it. In the first place, if you were in doubt, they tell you that the plant IS a fern. Ferns are a very ancient plant type. They evolved long before seeds were even thought of, and reproduce by amuch older method, using spores. No other kind of plant has these brown spore bodies on the backs of its leaves.
The shape and arrangement of the spore bodies also tell you which kind of fern it is.
The rock felt fern has two disorderly rows of round spore bodies.
The spores of its close relative, the “horseshoe felt fern” Pyrrosia confluens make a rather exaggerated horseshoe shape on the back of the leaf-tip.
In the garden, the horseshoe felt fern proves to be almost as drought hardy as the rock felt fern, though in the wild we most often notice it high on rainforest trees. It goes by the rather charming common name of “Poor Man’s Orchid”, and it might indeed be possible to mistake it for an orchid plant, if you fail to notice the spores.
Like the rock felt fern it has two leaf-sizes, but both the fertile and infertile ones are longer.
This is a very easy fern to grow on slabs of tree-fern, or in pots. It excels in baskets where it can cover the structure to make a green shaggy ball. It can also be established quite easily on trees, provided it starts off in a damp shady situation. It is a desirable plant where the landscaper wants to create a rainforest look.
Both these fern are also called “robber fern”. I don’t know why. They are climbers or epiphytes - not parasitic in any way, and steal nothing from the trees they grow on.
(For more on the rock felt fern, see June 2009.)