This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The southernmost part of California possesses a great diversity of climate. There are low hills whose sunny recesses are unvisited by frost, and mountain peaks 12,000 feet high, whose summits are white with snow till late in the summer. The waters which descend from the western slope of these mountains find their way through steep and wooded canons, abounding in water-falls, to fertile valleys; on the eastern side the scanty streams wind through barren hills, and hardly reach the edge of the thirsty desert whose lowest part is 70 feet beneath the sea level.
These varied conditions of heat and cold, of moisture and dryness, favor the production of a widely varied flora, extending from the pine and the oak to the palm, the agave and the cactus. From the same causes, there are to be found grouped together in the same natural order, plants which require very different conditions for their growth, as is well seen in the great number and variety of the native ferns. In rapidly passing these in review, it is not proposed to enter into any scientific description, but mainly to give a few notes concerning their manner and places of growth, and their general appearance. If we enter one of the many ravines, or canons which cut the mountain sides, we soon see some sunny or half shaded bank thinly covered with the common brake, Pteris aquilina, var. lanuginosa; but even higher up in the mountains it does not show the size and luxuriance it attains in more northern climates. On dryer and poorer soil are found the scattered tufts of the Bird Rock-brake, (Pellaea ornitho-pus), its roots often hidden under a stone or sheltered by the heath-like chimizo bushes, but its stiff fronds thrust out to the sunshine.
While young it is graceful, and of a soft glaucous green, but it is soon scorched to a dull olive color, and to a rigidity not at all in accordance with the grace looked for in a fern. Higher up in the hills there is to be found in a few places the rare Pellaea Wrightiana, so like in appearance to the Bird Rock-brake that a close examination is needed to detect the botanical characters which distinguish them. It has, perhaps, a somewhat more elegant appearance than its commoner relative, as it stands shouldering up against a half-buried boulder, and looking like a bunch of little dingy pine twigs. Both of these ferns when cultivated in the shade, acquire a brighter color, and a more graceful manner of growth than they have in their native homes. But before going so high up, let us look for a handsomer member of this genus, Pellsea an-dromedsefolia. It is to be sought in places partially shaded and not entirely dry, although it is by no means notional, and will grow under almost any conditions. In cultivation it is very satisfactory, doing well either in the house, or out in the sun among the smaller border plants.
Its few long and branching fronds are gracefully curved, or, in the shade, drooping, and the small ovate pinnules, although thick in texture, are of a pleasing green, or sometimes of quite a bright purple. Growing in the same places, is the California Polypod, Polypodium Californicum, its single deeply pinnatifid frond illuminated on the back with rows of bright golden fruit dots. It is a winter grower, shooting up with wonderful rapidity after the first rains, and withering when the moisture fails in the Summer. It is a very easy and good fern for house cultivation. In the same places, but loving a little more sunshine, is seen the Gym-nogramme triangularis, its polished brown stipes supporting handsome triangular fronds, the backs of which are covered with the bright yellow powder from which it gets its name of Gold Fern. Nearer the coast, and on the edge of the desert, they are found coated with a shining white powder, and are then called Silver Ferns, but botanists do not recognize them as distinct varieties.
(To be continued).