This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
This Fern usually grows in the vicinity of water, but rarely, if ever, directly in it. The decaying roots of trees and shaded moist ditch-banks are its favourite habitats. It, however, succeeds well in cultivation in a light sandy loam, or, in fact, in almost any common garden soil. The present plant belongs to a group of Ferns which have long been in a state of confusion, arising doubtless, in a great measure, from the very great number of descriptions and figures of the same plant in different stages of its growth. I have often met with L. spinosa, gradually passing, as I supposed, into the following (L. dilatata), which I consider to be the extreme state of growth of the whole group. That they may easily be confounded by the young inexperienced botanist in their progress from one stage of their growth to another is what, I suppose, no one in any way conversant with British Ferns will pretend to deny. I am not, however, without thinking that soils and situations are not wanting in their effect on the different transitions to which they are repeatedly subjected.
Under cultivation this requires similar treatment to the last; for wherever L. spinosa is met with in its native habitats, L. dilatata is certain to be near at hand, and, in all probability, some intermediate forms, apparently approaching to the present plant; hence it is that I am inclined to arrive at the conclusion that L. dilatata must be the extreme state of the group. Nevertheless, to the indifferent observer, no two plants, in certain stages of their growth, present a greater appearance of distinction. I am quite aware that several of the intermediate forms so very peculiar to this group have from time to time been converted into species, according, doubtless, to the conscientious opinions formed of their distinctive characters by those who were fortunate enough to detect them. This, however, I cannot very readily subscribe to, as it must ultimately place the whole section in a complete mass of confusion; for really, after many years of familiarity with British ferns, I am even now asked for species that I never knew but by name.
I wish to speak with all due deference of the opinions of others respecting this perplexing group; still it is but natural that I should have one of my own. In some of my wanderings I have seen noble specimens, three feet high, of this Fern, with the fronds for the most part tripinnate and the pinnules very convex and but slightly spi-nulose; in this state it would be very difficult to say how old the plants might be, as also in a state or form which I have met with in several situations, and which I considered to be the next, or younger form of the above. This form is very similar to the Allantodia Australis; and those who are acquainted with the one may very readily detect the other. But, however, they are not similar in essential generic character. The outline of the frond in L. dilatata is generally triangular, and the plant altogether forms a beautiful object when seen growing at the roots of old trees in damp shady-situations.
This is really a splendid monstrosity; indeed, few Ferns can claim a more attractive appearance; and may be recognised at first sight by the curled appearance of the pinnules, their less spinulose margins and shorter stripes, than in any of the other forms. It cultivates readily under the same treatment as the others.
I believe there are recorded several other species (?) in this group; but as I am not fortunate enough to comprehend to which of the forms their names are applied, I can say but little respecting them; neither, to my knowledge, have I ever seen them. I hope, however, ere long, that we shall be able to reduce the whole group into something like a generally understood thing, although the difficulty at first sight may appear almost insurmountable. I cannot see at present that L. rigida can really be mixed up with the L. spinosa group, as supposed by some.
Nursery, Foot's Cray, April 1850. Robert Sim.