by Chuck Nishihira
I know, I know…the title is a bit much, but for those who have seen this group of ferns in person, you will perhaps agree with me! Growing a large specimen of Oleandra takes years to accomplish, and even with sufficient time, this is often a difficult task. In cultivation, this is a rarely seen genus, even though their distribution occurs in the old and new world. There are 19 recognized species, and 61 species whose taxonomy is uncertain. Still, if you do a search for these ferns, very few images will show up, and of those, many will appear to be quite unremarkable. It is really only the difficulty to capture these ferns well in photographs that is the problem, and not the wonderfulness of the ferns themselves. The desire to grow a large specimen is my attempt to hit people over the head with beauty, as trying to showcase the subtle qualities doesn’t always garner the attention you are hoping for.
Yet, to fully appreciate this fern, it has to be seen and touched. Coming across a specimen in the wild would certainly draw from many “ohhhh, what is that!”. I promised myself to not wax poetic here, and forgive me if I am not completely successful. One of the most amazing characteristics of this fern is how thin the leaves are, especially given that these are not always small ferns. Barely thicker than tissue paper, these green diaphanous fronds with their delicate hairs and markings, draw you back again and again to stare and run their delicate leaves through your fingers. In the wild, hanging from their trees, they seem to glow if backlit and your eye is drawn quickly to them. If lit from the front, their delicate green plays the same trick with your attention.
The few photographs here capture the thinness of the leaves to some degree. And show the fine hairs and gentle markings quite well. I’m hoping that by posting this piece, I will find that little extra discipline needed to pamper this fern into a specimen. Wish me luck and in a few years watch your head.