Name: mermaid tail, Microsorum punctatum; the variety ‘Grandiceps’ is one of the best.
Height: overall about 60cm high and similar width.
Foliage: strappy, mid-green, tough; single ‘blade’ that forks repeatedly to form a tasselled or crested tip.
Climate: tropical to temperate; tolerates light frost.
Soil: fertile loam that drains well.
Position: light, airy position; light shade preferred; sun tolerant.
Feeding: use a long-term controlled-release fertiliser applied sparingly.
Watering: water regularly; good drainage essential.
Mermaid tail is an epiphyte—that is, it grows naturally on another plant or in the crevice of a rock, rather than sending roots down into the soil. Epiphytes can be parasitic (drawing nourishment and moisture from the host plant), or they might simply use their host plant as a support. Mermaid tail is not parasitic.
It may also grow at ground level in soil or leaf litter. Although it doesn’t have traditional roots, it does develop an underground horizontal stem, called a rhizome, by which it spreads by running along the ground.
The fronds of mermaid tail are blade-like and quite tough, like those of the staghorn, and mid-green. Each may be up to 60cm in height, dividing in two and then two again several times towards the tip, creating the crest or tassel by which this fern is often identified.
Mermaid tail does not flower. It reproduces by spores carried on the undersides of leaves in small brown spots.
Mermaid tail enjoys very similar conditions to elkhorn and staghorn ferns. When attached to trees or backing boards, it should be watered regularly to keep the sphagnum moss around the rhizome moist—it also likes humidity, so wet the surrounding tree as well.
In the garden, keep the soil moist but not wet—good drainage is essential. The same applies to pots or hanging planters—water regularly and ensure excess drains away freely.
Feed mermaid tail monthly with a water-soluble or liquid plant food suitable for native plants (low phosphorus, P).
A long-term, low P controlled-release fertiliser can also be applied sparingly once a year.
Like many other ferns, mermaid tail may be attacked by aphids, scale and mealy bugs. The best way to eradicate them is physical removal, but if that’s not possible, use a horticultural oil. Read the instructions to see what strength you should use on ferns.
Frangipani: a stunning plant bringing the fragrance of the tropics that provides shade to under-storey ferns; epiphytes can be grown in forks of branches.
Poinciana: also known as flame tree, poinciana thrives in tropical and sub-tropical areas, producing fern-like leaves and masses of orange-red flowers.
Mandevilla: a fast-growing, free-flowering climbing vine often associated with tropical and sub-tropical gardens.
Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing!
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