Most plants propagate through their flowers. But with ferns there’s nothing for the bees to do. Ferns don’t produce flowers! Luckily there are other ways of conquering the world. Some cultivars even produce bulbils: the babies just grow in balls on the leaf.
Spores, division and rooting
Ferns are part of a very big family: there are 40,000 species. With most cultivars spores develop on the underside of the leaf. When the spores are ripe, the protective membrane tears open. The spores then try to find a suitable spot to grow on the ground. You can also expand the family by division or by rooting the rhizomes. Spring is the perfect time for this.
A few fern cultivars propagate with bulbils. These are tissue nodules on the leaf that can grow into a new plant. Sometimes there are dozens of them. With the European chain fern, for example, the bulbils get bigger and bigger and the leaf becomes so heavy that it sags down. When the bulbil touches the ground the mini-roots can fasten onto the soil in order to start life independently. With the sensitive fern, also known as the bead fern, the bulbil falls off the leaf when it’s large enough, and settles in a new spot to grow. Then the mother fern’s work is done.
Help with propagation
You can wait until the bulbil is big enough and makes its own way in the world, but you can also help it along:
- Carefully remove the leaf with ripe bulbils from the fern.
- Fill a container with damp cutting compost mixed with peat (this ensures that the soil remains airy, no weeds develop and more water is absorbed).
- Carefully insert the leaf in the mixture.
- Place the container in a light, warm spot and ensure that the soil remains damp.
- Roots will now gradually develop on the bulbil. When they’re large enough to secure themselves in the soil, loosen the bulbils. Carefully ... Remember that your dealing with a baby.
- Place the bulbil in a pot or plant it in the garden.
You’ll have your very own ferny family in no time!