by F. Gordon Foster
Ferns to Know and Grow is a pretty comprehensive plant book. It describes the structure and life-cycle of ferns, how they grow and how to care for them indoors or out. They are very curious plants! I always had assumed that the spores under the leaves were like seeds, and new ferns grew wherever they landed in a favorable spot. But that's not so at all. Ferns actually go through three stages. The spores grow into microscopic plants called prothallia which develop male and female reproductive organs. They make sperm which have to swim through a drop of moisture to an egg cell. Only after the egg is fertilized does a mature fern plant grow, the leaves with which we are more familiar. Isn't that crazy? I didn't know there were any plants that used sperm and eggs to reproduce! Some ferns can also grow a new plant from where the end of a frond touches the ground, others (called "mother ferns") grow new baby plants on top of their leaves. But they all use spores and prothallia as well. When I read this part of the book to my husband he said "maybe those are the plants that animals evolved from." It's quite a thought- ferns are older than the dinosaurs!
Anyway, the bulk of the book is actually about identifying ferns. There's a section on ferns that grow well in landscaping, with brief instructions on their horticulture. Another section is all about "tender" ferns that do well as houseplants, and the last part is about rare and wild ferns, that don't survive outside their natural climate and so are presented here to enable the reader to identify them in the wild.
A most interesting book, if you like plants! My only criticism is on the illustrations. There are very few color photographs, most of the images black-and-white. While the drawings and descriptions are quite thorough enough I feel I could identify any fern I came across, it would still be nice to have some updated photos. Especially to see how they look in the garden.
Rating: 4/5 ........ 258 pages, 1971