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Mark F. Large & John E. Braggins - Tree Ferns

This book is the source of information on tree ferns. It has about 60 pages of color photographs. The bulk of the book, 260 pages, is devoted to descriptions of the ferns. Tree ferns are mostly referred to by their botanical name. If they do have a common name, it's usually known only in their place of origin.

There are many places where tree ferns will grow. The map for Osmunda on page 300 shows a wide swath of the temperate zone.

Tree ferns enhance a landscape like no other plant. They look exotic because they are. Their plant forms date back to the Jurassic period. They resemble palms, but are even more approachable. Some palms are rather thorny, while tree ferns are used as soft cushion stuffing. They lift our hearts as they lift our eyes upward to their fronds. Some tree ferns (Cyanthea contaminus) can exceed seventy feet. That species can even develop multi-branched crowns, a very unusual sight.

The book includes ferns that don't tower over you, but that do develop a small trunk. Leptopteris superba has a short trunk (around three feet,) but it more than makes up for it in leaf beauty. It earns the name superba. Its three-dimensional lacy fronds seem like ostrich plumes. Also, there is at least one tree fern that has a reputation for being more adaptable in cultivation. It's the Dicksonia sellowiana, from tropical America. The cultivation tips in the book are quite useful. For this fern they recommend trimming the fronds when transplanting.

One of the most delightful things about this book is quite unexpected. There are world map graphic illustrations for many of the tree ferns. The area of that fern's origin is highlighted. It's an excellent visual tool. In some cases (such as Sadleria) it's poignant, showing the planet and highlighting only Hawaii. In other cases (Dicksonia) it's intriguing — when that genus is scattered throughout most of the tropical world, but not Africa.

This book doesn't slack in any category. There's extensive cultivation information, including propagation, diseases, and pests. There's also up-to-date taxonomy. It can make your head spin. The section on landscaping is not long, but has some valuable pearls. "Tree ferns seldom look good when planted alone." Tree ferns do well in courtyards and along sheltered walls. Plants may be used as living fences with unusual results."

Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, 800-327-5680, www.timberpress.com, 2004, 0-88192-630-2, 360 pages, hardback, $39.95

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