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.
In the Monthly of December, 1879, I see Mr. Parnell answers the query of "J. S. R." as correctly and concisely as any one can do, without seeing the plants in question. The allusion to the Rabbit's, or Hare's Foot Fern, seems to call me back to my boyhood days, when I, a mere stripling first saw them. And probably no incipient gardener felt prouder than myself, when first promoted to a position under the sashes. Lord Vernon's great gardens were'then famous for ferns and flowers; especially for Cape, and Australian, or New Holland plants, as they were then more generally called. In one of the large, though somewhat antiquated greenhouses were placed a collection of what my much honored and gray haired preceptor called his anatomical group. Rather a queer designation, will admit and which may need explaining to the reader. As the kind-hearted old man, Mr. Dig-well's specimens of comparative anatomy were but few, they were soon learned, and it seems with me were long remembered. To briefly describe them, I arrange them under the following heads, to wit: a la Digwell - horns, heads, ears, faces, tongues, throats, wings, tails, feet and claws.
The horns, as first named, were primus, of course, as they are generally placed on the highest part of the animal structure, and were representated by Platycerium alcicorne, or Stags Horn Fern. This curious plant in reality much more resembles an osseous formation, than a herbaceous one, when seen from a distance. The head, or second example, was a Euphorbia caput Medusa?, or Medusa's Head. And next was the Face Tree, the singular Mimusops cy-nocarpa, - known in common parlance as the Monkey-faced Tree. The ears had fac simile in a specimen of Phillis nobla, the Hare's Ears. While Ornithoglossum undulatum, or Bird's Tongue, and Picris hispida, or Ox Tongue were proper examples, if not exactly, lingual synonyms. Next in order was Trachillium dif-fusum, or Throat Wort. The Bat Winged Fern, Pteris vespertilionis, whose strangely formed fronds were considered appropriate illustrations of wings, were the next. Then in consecutive order, was the caudal appendage, - and " thereby hangs a tail," a Rat's Tail forsooth; and which is commonly known as the Rat Tail Cactus, or Cereus flagelliformis.
It will be seen that much of what goes to make up a perfect anatomical frame was wanting, and at best there are but parts of vegetative fragments to compare with a full corporeal structure.
But the extremities, both feet and claws, were not wanting to complete the similitude, inasmuch as the Bird's Foot, Euphorbia ornithopes and Testudinaria elephantopes, or Elephant's Foot; Hare's Foot, or Polypodium aureum, and Rabbit's Foot, Davallia canariensis, answered well for pedal parts, and which very properly ended with claws. Epiphyllum truncatum, or the Crab's Claw Cactus as terminal examples.
The good old gentleman, Mr. Digwell, was a good naturalist, a good linguist, a good botanist, and a good gardener, " one of the olden time." His abundant wealth of common sense, extensive information, urbanity of manners, and upright bearing, well fitted him for a "gentleman's companion," as he and his like were in days of yore. Men of his type, and abilities, ranked much higher in the social scale, as well as in horticulture at that time, than they seem to do now. Perhaps they were better appreciated and more liberally compensated than are good practical gardeners at this day. A connecting link, as he was of ye ancient and skillful gardener of the long ago, I well remember him and his kindly ways, with some of the happest recollections of my life. And his last admonition when we parted was this, " Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not".
Sudbury Park, Derbyshire, England, is the pleasant place I refer to, and where I first saw Polypodium aureum, called the Hare's Foot Fern, in contradistinction I suppose to the Rabbit's Foot, or Davallia canariensis.
Now, if any of the readers will compare the big furry rhizomes of the Polypodium, with the more attenuated ones of the Davallia, they will readily see the difference in which the first-named resembles a big hare's foot, while the latter conforms more to that of the smaller sized animal. Referring to Mr. R. Buist's catalogue of stove and greenhouse plants, (good authority in such matters), published twenty years ago, he too designated the Polypodium as Hare's Foot Fern - and like many others, has known and cultivated them as such, for many years. As I am not infallible, I have no wish to be considered arbitrary in my opinion, nor claim to be right in my assertions, but simply give my ideas upon the subject for what they are worth. Loving ferns as I do, I could not well refrain from giving a short sketch of how they were first brought to my notice when a boy. Since then I have had much to say about them from time to time in the Monthly, and will close by quoting a passage from the June number of 1877. The scenes and circumstances are in Australia, as the writer saw them, thus: " The rhizomes of Davallia pyxidata, and D. flaccida, hung in lengthened masses like twisted and tangled ropes from the projecting crags, some forty feet long.
The Stag's Horn Fern, Platy-cerium alcicorne, was indeed a curious sight to behold. Like a parasite, it seemed to live upon everything moist or dry, and grew equally as well on the tops of the trees as on the soil beneath," etc. At a subsequent period, your correspondent recollects the very unique use to which Stag's Horn Ferns were put. For instance - they supplied the place of antlers on the head of a life sized statue of a stag which stood in a conservatory at Bretton Park, Yorkshire, England. Probably Mr. R. Scott, Florist, of Philadelphia, remembers the aforesaid stag with its vegetative horns, as he certainly had more to do with it than the chronicler of these facts. Valefilices I