This large and ancient order of plants is known botanically as Filices. They are found throughout the globe in every land, and what is remarkable is that not only is a single genus widely spread in many parts of the world but a single species is found on every continent and island of the sea. One instance will suffice. The well known Adiantum Capillus-Veneris, the British maidenhair fern, is found in the warm parts of England and Ireland, and so it is a native of central and southern Europe. In China and Japan, Persia and Syria, the Polynesian Islands, Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Abyssinia, Mas-cerene Islands, Nepal, Simla, Assam and 6,000 feet up on the Himalaya mountains in Thibet and Afghanistan; in the United States it grows in North Carolina and westward to Arizona, and in the Amazon valley and in the Cape de Verde Islands as well as in the Azores, Madeira, Teneriffe - in fact, throughout the world except Australia and New Zealand. Many others have almost as wide a distribution.
Those people who may wonder and conjecture at the closely allied species of animal life existing in countries far removed from one another and between which till a very recent date communication was impossible need not wonder at finding the same species of ferns in many parts, because it would be quite possible for the spores to travel hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles by currents of air. Ferns have no flowers, and that is their great distinguishing mark from all other plants that are perennial, evergreen or arborescent. The order includes the lowly creeping selaginella to the majestic giant, the dicksonia and alsophila of the Australian forest. Ferns are first of all the most graceful of plants. A few may be called more curious than beautiful, such as the platycerium (stag's horn fern), but all are handsome and interesting and many so graceful that both as ornamental plants and cut fronds they are now indispensable, and hundreds of thousands of feet of glass are devoted to their culture alone. This is a branch of our business which cannot change except to increase. The graceful ferns we must have, whatever flowers we use. The native ferns of our latitude are mostly all deciduous, but they make handsome plants for the rockwork or against walls or fences.
The collection and storing for winter use of the fronds of a few species of our native ferns is now quite an industry and many millions of fronds are preserved for our winter demands.
In Europe the hardy fernery is usually a part of every well regulated garden, and a most interesting place it is for those who have a cultivated taste for these beautiful plants. It is not hazardous to say that it is superior minds that have a taste or make a hobby of ferns or any other class of plants. Retiring people, and perhaps considered cranks they may be, perhaps poor hands at swapping horses or even making money, careless in fashion and not up in golf, and poor in politics, yet superior minds far above the common herd. Not those who keep an expensive gardener and pride themselves on having the finest garden to please their friends or surpass their neighbor; but the man or woman who knows his pets, their wants and when they are flourishing and happy - there is where you will find the intelligent, honest and contented individual.
A hardy fernery in our latitude would have to be confined largely to our northern species; still for six or seven months it would be highly interesting. They are best shaded by lofty trees and sunk some few feet below the surface and cut out with winding paths, with rocks and mounds for the ferns. The cool as well as the tropical fernery is usually found in all fine gardens of Great Britain. There may be some here, but as yet they are not common, although there is nothing to prevent their perfect success. They are usually sunk a few feet below the surface of the surrounding ground, simply to insure a more uniform temperature. With a proper selection and planting these ferneries are most beautiful and interesting. When planted out where the roots enjoy a uniform degree of moisture, many species display a beauty that it is impossible to produce in a pot.
All students of ferns or those interested in their culture, whether for pleasure or profit, should most assuredly avail themselves of that grand work, " The Book of Choice Ferns," published by the same firm as Nicholson's "Dictionary of Gardening." It is in seven handsome volumes, most comprehensive, and in paper, type and illustrations magnificent. To it I must often refer, for no better authority exists. The author makes a classification of ferns for "decorative purposes" which is a "guide to those who are seeking species for any particular purpose.
He classes them as follows: 1, tree ferns; 2, gigantic, non-arborescent; 3, small growing; 4, ferns with colored or tinted fronds; 5, variegated and crested; 6, gold and silver; 7, climbing, trailing and drooping; 8, filmy or transparent; 9, viviparous or bulbil bearing; 10, curious ferns.
A selection of a few from each class of the more familiar kinds will illustrate the wisdom of the classification.
Alsophila australis, Cyathea deal-bata, Dicksonia antarctica, Lomaria Gibba. Of these, Dicksonia antarctica is the best known and easiest to manage. Cyathea dealbata is a magnificent tree fern, large spreading head, and under side of the fronds silvery. Lomaria is seldom seen of any great size, and alsophila, although a graceful, quick growing fern, is very soft and entirely unfit for commercial use, as it suffers much in a dry heat and from neglect in watering. They can all be grown in large pots or tubs, or planted out, where the dicksonia and alsophila attain a great size. Any of these will thrive in winter, when the temperature does not go below 50 degrees, and a few nights lower will do no harm. None of the tree ferns could be called commercial plants, except for large and costly decorations, where they would be grand objects.