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Platycerium

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By Louwrens Opperman & Roy Vail


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Louwrens

Roy

 

Growing ferns from spore the easy way.

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The back ground images were sketched by my farther, Gert Opperman

 


 

Platycerium veitchii

Pronounced "veitch e eye")

( Written By Roy Vail)

 

The Name

This Platycerium is no doubt named for James Veitch who founded the Veitch Nursery in Exeter, England, in the late 18th century.  It closed in 1914.  The nursery was very active in the early collecting of orchids in many parts of the world.



Biology


Platycerium veitchii,  one of the most interesting Platycerium, because it is a semi-desert species., is native to the state of Queensland, Australia, and to some off shore islands. Its habitat is on rocks in areas that receive from 15 to 25 inches of rainfall.  Two reliable sources told me that the rock faces on which this fern grows can get to 120 degrees F.  I have seen it thriving, on rocks, with no soil, in bright sun, in places that had received no rain in two years.

It forms pups readily.  A cluster matures into a shape I call a half basket , open at the top, sides and bottom covered with plants,  but  prevented from forming a complete basket by the rock behind it.   I have seen masses of dead shield fronds that were 4 feet tall and 2 feet across. The rocks I have seen it on were sandstone.   Lichens were common.  I believe the spores germinate in the lichens.   It is also found on lava flows.

 


The fertile fronds of Platycerium veitchii can be nearly white with stellate hairs.  The stomates are sunken into pits.  Both of these are adaptations to semi-desert conditions. Its most striking feature is the long slender, finger-like extensions that grow from the top edge of the shield fronds.  A fine field botanist, Bruce Gray, told me he believes Platycerium veitchii requires moisture in the air.  I predict it will be shown that these long tips function in the collection of moisture from dew.  The plant spends energy growing these tips, so it must receive a payback.  Water, from moisture in the air, collecting on these tips as dew drops, then rolling down into the root mass, is the payback. The tops of  clusters of Platycerium veitchii will often have animal droppings in them, probably wombat.  The plants must be good and safe place for the animals to sleep.  I have seen no signs that other animals depend on Platycerium veitchii.

Another habitat image by Peter Kerr.



Cultivation


Platycerium veitchii requires much light.  It does fine in full sun in Miami, Florida.  Remember to let a shade grown plant get used to the full sun slowly, or otherwise the sudden change might cause sun burn. Only with high light will it take its true form, showing fertile fronds that are short, upright, nearly white, and shield fronds with the tall finger-like extensions.  Although it is a semi-desert Platycerium that can survive dry periods, it should not be allowed to dry out completely.  Platycerium veitchii is also reasonably cold tolerant, probably able to take a light frost.


The WRONG way to grow Platycerium veitchii is under low light with much water.  It may survive, but the fertile fronds will become long, wide, and may easily twist at the base, then hang down.  The excess water will prevent the formation of the fingers along the top edge of the shields. (see footnote) As with all cluster forming Platycerium, I recommend leaving the pups together with the main plant because this allows the group to form a cluster that shows the more natural shape.



Discussion


Platycerium veitchii is closely related to Platycerium bifurcatum.  The hobbyist labels on Platycerium were a real mess until 1964 when Barbara Joe, (now Barbara Joe Hoshizaki) published her classic paper "A Review of the Species of Platycerium."  Some of the plants brought in from Australia in those days were labeled  "Green Veitchii."  They were Platycerium bifurcatum.  However, in every large group of Platycerium veitchii I have seen in Australia, there were a few clusters that looked more like Platycerium bifurcatum than I would like to admit. Dr. Joe Holtum at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, http://www.jcu.edu.au/school/tbiol/Botany/staff/jamh.htm has taken enough interest in Platycerium veitchii to have three of his graduate students do their Master's thesis on it.  His Department has taken scanning electron microscope pictures of its fertile fronds and has begun DNA studies.   Unfortunately he reports, "Four years work on the veitchii project came to a screaming halt when the property containing our prime veitchii population was sold to a gentleman who heartily disliked 'government and university folk'!!  In a very polite but firm manner he indicated to us that the population had lasted for a long time without any research and he hoped it would continue to do so!  I am still looking for an accessible population of a decent size." Their research project had been funded by a grant from the late Platycerium hobbyist Ralph Hughes, of Fort Myers, Florida.  Mr. Hughes is pictured on the back cover of  my Platycerium Hobbyist's Handbook." I would suggest that Platycerium veitchii should be tissue cultured in quantity for the general nursery trade.  Platycerium bifurcatum cv Netherlands and Platycerium superbum are the only ones now tissue cultured constantly.  Adding Platycerium veitchii would give the nursery trade a third species to sell, which is very different from the other two, yet also easy to grow.
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Footnote:
In 1995, during my first trip to Australia, I visited the fascinating gardens of Reg Locyer in Ravenshoe, Queensland, at the high southern end of the Atherton tablelands.   Ravenshoe is one of the  places the Mt. Lewis Platycerium grows.  It can get cool and receives more rain than the lower northern tablelands.  In his front yard, shaded by low trees, was a very interesting mass of Platycerium veitchii, with long fronds and entire shield fronds, like Platycerium hillii.  He gave me a plant from it, which I brought back to the U.S.A. in hopes of introducing it to hobbyists here.  Unfortunately it died.  Later, in Miami, in the collection of Reggie
Whitehead, I saw a veitchii with the same traits.  It had been given to him by another Miami hobbyist whom I knew.  This meant to me that the form which had died for me was already in collections in the US, and now I could get another start of it.  My second plant lived, but over time reverted to more typical veitchii.  (So did the one of Reggie Whitehead's) My conclusions were that Reg Locyers' plant, and the Miami plant , had both been grown under low light with excess water, and that the genetic makeup of Platycerium veitchii permits the finger-like extensions of the top edge of the shield fronds to develop from zero to pronounced, depending on how much water it receives.  The trait is very elastic in its expression. It makes one wonder if the same is also true for the other species of Platycerium,
AND makes one suspect that many of the so-called cultivars of Platycerium are due only to environmental differences.  This is not true of all cultivars, but Ralph Hughes spent years demonstrating that it was true for many.


RV.

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