Calathea rufibarba, a beautiful yet rarely grown species with fuzzy, scalloped leaves which are a deep green above and purple below. Certainly a little more interesting than a Spathiphyllum or other similarly-sized plant, this species garners a good amount of attention. Image © In Situ Plants.
Calathea rufibarba, a beautiful yet rarely grown species with fuzzy, scalloped leaves which are a deep green above and purple below. Certainly a little more interesting than a Spathiphyllum or other similarly-sized plant, this species garners a good amount of attention. Image © In Situ Plants.
Anthurium superbum, a species with beautiful bullate leaves that thrives in bright indirect light. Image © In Situ Plants.
Anthurium superbum, a species with beautiful bullate leaves that thrives in bright indirect light. Image © In Situ Plants.

There are an estimated 400,000 species of plants on earth. While this includes species such as giant marine kelp, leafless parasitic plants, and a slough of other ones not ultimately suitable for indoor cultivation, there are a significant number which will do quite well in an interior setting provided a few basic conditions are met, and certainly more species than are typically seen indoors.

It seems then a disservice to our clients, our own industry and plants in general that most companies seem to prefer to play it safe with the tried-and-true varieties that we’ve all become so accustomed to seeing. They’re about as common as dirt, as the saying goes, and, besides the fact that they (hopefully) have been grown as premium interior specimens and not hastened out the greenhouse door in the fashion of so many of the houseplants sold to the consumer market (the subject of another forthcoming post, I’m sure), there’s not really much to differentiate them from the plants that people are growing on their own at home, or at least that they’re so used to seeing everywhere that they don’t even notice them anymore.

It’s a disservice to clients because, while presumably done with good intentions in order to spare clients the sight of an ailing plant should anything go awry (most of these are very tough to kill [or at least they die slowly and relatively gracefully], and perform fairly predictably), it doesn’t really deliver a tremendous amount of value to the client: certainly they will get the physical benefits of having plants indoors (these benefits were touched on in this post), but the aesthetic and biophilic benefits of plants seem to me somewhat dependent on the plants being engaging and actually noticed, instead of looking like furniture as they so often do. And why have something commonplace when something extraordinary is just as much cost (on their part) and effort (on our part)?

It’s a disservice to our industry for several reasons. As I noted above, to the untrained eye these species, even if they’ve been better grown, look nearly indistinguishable from the ones that can be bought for a pittance at a big box store or wherever; it is challenging to justify the price point for them when someone thinks that they’re the same as the ones they saw for a quarter of the price up the road, even if they get the whole spiel about quality, etc. The other side to this is that many people grow these plants in their home themselves; why, then, would they pay us to do it? Yes, we can do a much better job (hopefully!), but it’s just another aspect we need to justify to the customer. Granted, there are some situations (extreme low light, for example) where only the bulletproof plants will do, but in most situations there is likely something more unique that could be used.

Lastly, it’s a disservice to plants (not that they care): what better way to share a passion for all things green than to try and show the public as much of that world as we can? There’s just so much out there that it seems strange to restrict ourselves to the commonplace when we’re in the business of bringing life into our clients’ spaces; certainly showcasing the extraordinary biodiversity that the plant kingdom has to offer is an effective way of doing just this.

Plants are able to do so much for us, and technology now makes it easier to keep species with particular requirements happy without any additional work (the Calathea above would certainly be trickier without the sub-irrigated planters it’s in; it’s relatively easy to grow so long as it doesn’t go dry). Vertical gardens allow the perfect growing environment for plants so uncommon in cultivation that they don’t even have a common name; the combination of ample water and high humidity makes a huge variety of plants available to the vertical gardener. What a shame then to see so many large, high-profile projects populated by pothos and other common plants when the whole of the tropics could have been the designer’s oyster.

In Situ challenges all in our industry (growers, local wholesalers and interior landscaping firms) to venture off the well-trodden path of Dracaena and Schefflera and step into a world rich in plant species which can grow our industry and the public’s love and appreciation for plants indoors.

Anoectochilus formosanus, a beautifully-patterned small species of orchid which grows terrestrially in leaf litter in its native habitat, and which loves the moist humid surroundings of a terrarium. Image © In Situ Plants.
Anoectochilus formosanus, a beautifully-patterned small species of orchid which grows terrestrially in leaf litter in its native habitat, and which loves the moist humid surroundings of a terrarium. Image © In Situ Plants.
The tropical understory; a wealth of interesting species often better suited to the confines of the humid terrarium than the oft-toted succulents. Image © In Situ Plants.
The tropical understory; a wealth of interesting species often better suited to the confines of the humid terrarium than the oft-toted succulents. Image © In Situ Plants.
Mosses, to me, are some of the most lush and beautiful plants one can grow, and they do best in a humid terrarium. Image © In Situ Plants.
Mosses, to me, are some of the most lush and beautiful plants one can grow, and they do best in a humid terrarium. Image © In Situ Plants.
Peperomia prostrata, a long-standing terrarium favourite which is also quite cute and succulent-looking. Image © In Situ Plants.
Peperomia prostrata, a long-standing terrarium favourite which is also quite cute and succulent-looking. Image © In Situ Plants.

You’ve likely read me hint before about my disdain for the current craze in succulent plants, and succulent terrariums in particular. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad to see an interest in plants in general, and I have nothing against the plants themselves, really; there are a lot of interesting plants that are classified as succulents, displaying a huge variety of shape, colour, and texture, which I suppose is the appeal.They have a reputation of being hard to kill, which I’ll admit is partially true; they grow easily enough when conditions are favourable, and if they are not, most of them are at least slow to decline if pretty much left alone, though improper care can hasten their end, especially via overwatering. They are inxepensive, though (particularly the cute young plants that florists and the like get in), and so are easy to replace when one knocks off.

But are people satisfied with this? Isn’t the whole thing about keeping plants to try and keep them alive and doing well? I’ll readily admit to having killed a plant or two in my time (not usually for lack of trying), but one of the first things I think about when I find a plant I like the look of is whether it’s suited to my growing conditions, and, for me at least, most succulents are patently not. They require (for the most part) very bright light, which is an immediate turn off for me personally, and should be for most people I meet who profess to be ‘really into succulents right now’, most of whom don’t have a window with decent exposure, let alone the solarium or greenhouse that would really allow these plants to do their thing.

These plants end up being stuck in a seashell, a shot glass, or some other kitschy place, or worse yet, a terrarium, where conditions are not exactly optimal; these plants are adapted to arid regions, and most require very bright light, free-draining soil and good air movement to do well, and without special considerations these can be very difficult to achieve in a terrarium environment, which are by design retentive of moisture and humidity.

Seeing as how one might have a glass vessel around after succulent disasters of one kind or another (if not, they’re readily available from many stores now in various shapes and sizes, though of course any glass or otherwise transparent container will do, really), why not give one a go again with plants that are perfectly at home therein? The really nice ones (such as the orchid to the right) can take a little digging to rustle up, but there are many fine species which can be found without too much trouble and with which one can have some rewarding success with terrarium gardening. Because the terrarium should really be a less intensive and more problem-free way to keep plants indoors; soil moisture is held much longer, so issues with forgetting a watering will not be as severe, and most plants will benefit from the extra humidity and reward the grower with larger, vibrant-looking foliage while at the same time avoiding the many foliar maladies that come with dry indoor air.

This was the original purpose of the terrarium, after all; Wardian cases have been around since the Victorian age as a way of keeping exotic tropical plants alive indoors, which was the style at the time. Ferns and the like were and are appreciative of the shelter provided by these glass enclosures, and we now have better technology which allows us to have seamless (and leadless!) glass enclosures for these plants, which makes them all the more attractive while still being quite functional.

What are the prerequisites for a good terrarium plant? First and foremost the plant needs to be adapted to the conditions approximated by a terrarium, which typically consist of lower light, consistently moist soil, higher humidity, lower air movement and limited space, though all of these variables can be controlled to some degree. Fortunately there are many plants who are right at home in such an environment; think of the tropical forest understory, where the light is dim and the air and soil are often very damp indeed. Many species can be found either growing directly on the ground or else epiphytically on the lower portions of trees, and these are often the best suited for terrarium life.

There are plenty of blogs and articles out there that list suitable species, so I won’t bother with one here. Be wary, though, as some of these lists are not entirely well thought out and some of the listed species may eventually grow quite large (relatively speaking); when starting out, working with a larger container will help keep things manageable without needing too much maintenance to keep things from being cramped. Do a little research and find out the maximum size of any prospective species and it will save you trouble in the long run. There are a great many true miniature plants which will stay small for their entire lives, but they are often not available through most retailers, who instead often sell juvenile plants in small pots because they’re cute and inexpensive. An alternative might be creeping or stoloniferous plants, for example, like Pellionia, Pilea, Episcia and others, which are pretty easy to find; their size is very easily managed, for they stay low to the ground and need only be trimmed when they start climbing the walls of the terrarium. There are many upright plants which will stay reasonably short in stature that pass through the garden centres and florists’ often enough, too, so familiarize yourself with a few of the plants from the terrarium-friendly plant lists beforehand and keep your eyes peeled.

There are in fact whole enterprises geared towards selling terrarium-friendly plants (though not so much in Canada, unfortunately); in the USA, Black JungleJosh’s Frogs and Glass Box Tropicals are three that are very popular amongst dart frog hobbyists, who build elaborate natural planted enclosures for the species they keep in captivity. Not all of us have access to these places, of course, but their stock lists do serve as a handy reference for plants amenable to the terrarium environment.

A couple tips on setting up and maintaining a terrarium: first, use good quality soil for your terrarium and I guarantee better success than using the dirt from the garden centre (I’d written a little bit about terrarium soil near the bottom of this post): one that allows better aeration and increased longevity will make plants much happier over the long term. And keep up on your watering, but notice that a little water will go a long way; one of the benefits of a clear container is that you can watch the water you apply migrate and spread out into the soil. Do this once or twice while paying attention and you’ll get a sense of how much water it will take to keep things just right. And if you’re a heavy-handed waterer by nature, do not despair; there are plenty of plants that don’t mind wet feet. Plants sold for aquariums, for example, are often riparian species that will do marvelously planted in consistently moist to wet soil and kept humid, and the selection in the trade now is better than ever.

Second, keep that thing out of direct sunlight, especially if it’s without any ventilation holes; if you’ve ever been in a greenhouse on a sunny day you’ve experienced the greenhouse effect, where heat is trapped and accumulates within. This effect works within the terrarium, too, and plants inside can easily be cooked if temperatures are allowed to become extreme. If you’ve picked the right plants, bright indirect light should be the most you’ll need, and many will tolerate deep shade fairly well.

Third, do your homework! If you learn a thing or two about a particular plant’s origins and habitat you’ll be able to make an educated decision on whether it’s a good candidate for the terrarium or not; a simple search online with the species name appended with the word ‘habitat’ will bring up a fair amount of information in most cases. Even cultural tips such as ‘enjoys high humidity’, ‘keep out of direct sunlight’, and ‘keep moist but not wet’ are all valuable clues to the suitability of the prospective species. Knowing your plants a little better also increases the richness of keeping them as a hobby, I feel, so don’t be afraid to nerd out a little.

If you are hellbent on succulents and not having much luck with them inside glass containers, perhaps a dish garden may be a better direction to go for your diminutive landscapes; this will allow for better air movement and the option for higher light in order to achieve greater success with these plants. And of course all of this is not to say that a succulent terrarium is impossible; I’m sure there are people out there who can pull it off (long-term, I mean; anyone can stuff some plants in a jar and put a photo of it on the internet). But the terrarium environment is really best suited to tropical species which will respond positively to those conditions, and if it’s the particular form of succulents that appeals to you, there are many other plants which are succulent-looking in nature but which do hail from tropical forests. Many Peperomia are quite succulent, and most are very well-suited indeed; P. prostrata above has to be one of my all-time favourites. There are some caudex-forming epiphytes such as Mymecodia and Hydnophytum (which are profoundly interesting in their own right due to their mutualistic relationship with ants in nature; read more about that here) which are delightfully rotund at the base and often a little spiny, Cryptanthus and other bromeliads certainly conjure the rosette forms of Echeveria or Haworthia, and the list goes on and on, so give something new a try and have another look at the terrarium; there’s so much out there waiting for you.

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Tungahua I - Bosque Protector Los Cedros

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Trogon Creek - Bosque Protector Los Cedros

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Amanecer Cerca del Observatorio - Bosque Protector Los Cedros

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Clearing - Bosque Protector Los Cedros

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Aves en el Bosque Secundario - Bosque Protector Los Cedros

I thought that there might be some interest in these, and they’re certainly not doing anyone besides myself much good just sitting on my hard drive. When I last had the pleasure of visiting the tropical forest I recorded many, many hours worth of soundscapes from different areas of the Bosque Protector Los Cedros, a biological reserve in Ecuador covering 17,000 acres of mostly untouched wilderness in the lower part of the Chocó biogeographic region, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and home to a staggering number of species of flora and fauna, many endemic to the region.

Below are several recordings, all about an hour in length. They were taken from several locations and form something of a picture of this type of forest in the middle of the (relatively) dry season; though life doesn’t seem to slow down much in the rain there, it certainly becomes more challenging to record it well. My efforts at makeshift umbrellas made of Anthurium leaves were enough to protect my equipment from the many downpours, but the acoustics left much to be desired. All of these recordings were made with me present, perched a little way further down the trail but still within eyeshot of the area so that I could attempt to document the wildlife I was recording (I must have looked positively ridiculous flipping furiously through the field guide The Birds of Ecuador, which contains something like 1600 species, after some tiny hummingbird or another).

I will unabashedly confess that this area of the world is what sparked my interest in plants, and I believe that In Situ has come into the interior landscaping industry directly from these forests, with our boots still muddy; our interest in working with more unusual and exotic species, replicating natural habitats, creating impromptu natural history lessons and trying to recreate indoors that feeling one gets when surrounded by a forest almost violently alive and brimming over with some of the most amazing plant species on earth is a direct result of this early exposure to the rainforest of South America.

Mostly tranquil, sometimes raucous, often hilarious (although maybe you had to have been there), these recordings (to me, at least) capture much of the feeling of being alone in these primeval forests; so lush, vibrant and vigorous, the plants seem to grow visibly as you watch them, and there is an abundance of life everywhere you rest your eyes. I hope that they have some measure of transportive effect: take them for a spin and let me know what you think.

If I hadn’t temporarily lost my notes I’d use the space here to name the goodly number of bird species one can hear in this recording; when they turn up I will add them. The avian fauna makes up a large percentage of the readily visible creatures one can see when walking (or in this case, sitting) the trails at Los Cedros. (I should say relatively visible; even the brightest coloured-ones are somwhat cryptic in the riot of life that is this type of forest.)

If you have this recording on at appreciable volume though a decent set of speakers you may notice a dull booming sound, which I didn’t know what to make of when I’d heard it out there. It wasn’t until I got back to camp and heard the news that the Tungurahua volcano near Baños (nearly 200 kilometres away) was erupting did I put two and two together.

This recording was named after the bird which can be heard calling beginning at about twelve minutes into the recording; a beautiful bird which I had seen infrequently but had never heard call before I captured it here.

Water is at the heart of this forest, and indeed this reserve’s mountain streams and massive rainfall serve as the principal watershed for the surrounding communities, which are noticeably hotter and dryer than even a little ways up the hill.

El Observatorio is a small open space atop a hill on the ridge that overlooks Los Cedros. Perched at about 2100 metres, it’s a great place to sit and, weather-permitting, look out over the great untrodden wilderness below.

It’s a bit of a hike to get there, much of it along the sopping-wet ridge where is seems always to be raining or have just finished raining; epiphytes abound, and it’s a great place to find orchid species, among them species in the genus Dracula, of which several are unique to the area.

This recording was taken at dawn after having spent the night on said ridge with a couple other fellows and a prodigious amount of rum. Dawn was certainly not as painful as it could have been had I woken up elsewhere, as I’m sure you’ll agree after listening.

Empty space is somewhat hard to find there, but I was able to find a clearing at set up shop for a few hours, which is where this recording was taken. By the way, the white noise that’s present more or less in all of these recordings is the sound of the river, which was something of an annoyance, but easily forgivable.

This is a pretty minimal recording, really, (with the exception of the one or two parrot-flock flyovers) but I feel like you can hear a bit of tension; it was threatening to rain (again) for its duration. A few of the forest-edge bird species make their appearance here.

Another recording taken just after dawn in an area of more secondary forest, where epiphyte density is a little lower and where sound seems to carry a little better. If you’ve ever been up and about at dawn (couldn’t blame you if you haven’t) you know that it is a busy time for our feathered friends, and is a general changing of the guard in the tropical forest from the night to the day shift, so one tends to hear a good solid mix of different creatures at this time, from frogs to insects to monkeys and lots of things in between.

If you’re unfamiliar with the chemical reaction above, then you may also be unfamiliar with the fact that life as we typically tend to think of it would not be possible without plants.

Photosynthesis is responsible for the capture of solar energy that in turn powers nearly all life on earth: everything we eat is either plants, or other animals that formerly ate plants (or that ate other animals that ate plants). Plants absorb sunlight and convert it into chemical energy which is stored within the plant for its own uses; we eagerly exploit this by consuming them and thus the sum of the solar energy they’ve stored. Good deal for us, bad deal for the plants (not that they seem to care).

There are not many other ways to capture and metabolize energy in this way, save chemosynthesis (which is why I need to keep referring to ‘almost all life’ above, which, while definitely less dramatic, is more accurate, as there are organisms which are able to capture energy from chemical reactions, most notably in deep-sea communities colonizing hydrothermal vents, and so have no need of sunlight). So plants really are the foundation of nearly all life on the earth.

And not just regarding energy, either. Though a bit more oft-toted, the fact that plants maintain the planet’s oxygen levels is equally prevalent. This does bring up the subject of conservation, but I can save that for another time. I will add in a shameless plug, though, that plants indoors will raise local oxygen levels and just generally improve the air quality indoors. You can read this post for more information if you like: Plants at Work: The Science Behind how Plants Improve Life Indoors.

For anyone interested in the equation who doesn’t understand the chemistry, basically the plant takes 6 molecules of carbon dioxide and 6 of water, and splits these to create free oxygen (which is released by the plant), and a few other goodies which combine with the solar energy captured by the chlorophyll in the plant to create carbohydrates (the C6H1206 in the equation above) which contain that solar energy. Pretty simple, but critical to life on earth.

It’s a little humorous to me that our industry (speaking very broadly here, of course) provides, in a manner of speaking, a product that no one can live without. Maybe that’s why everyone tends to like plants so much: I’ve met many people indifferent to them (and have changed a few minds there), and many more people who love them but can’t seem to stop killing them (and I can only hope I’ve helped a bit there), but have never really met anyone who’s said that they actively dislike plants (except maybe recent victims of poison ivy or the like). Maybe it’s a stretch to assume that we as a species are that aware of the inexorable connection we have with the rest of life, but for whatever reason the biophilic instinct is certainly alive and well.

Sporophyte fronds of what I`m presuming is Adiantum peruvianum, doing their thing in one of In Situ's vertical gardens. Image ©  In Situ Plants.
Sporophyte fronds of what I`m presuming is Adiantum peruvianum, doing their thing in one of In Situ's vertical gardens. Image © In Situ Plants.

Just a short one here, but I’m pleased to report that the little gametophytes I wrote about back in June have started to produce their first fronds, AKA sporophytes (being the part of the plant that eventually produces the spore which gifted us with the gametophytes in the first place). Again, I can only presume that these are Adiantum peruvianum, as this is the only fern species in this garden, but there are a lot of other ferns here at the lab (to say nothing of the effectiveness of travel by spore; these ferns really could be from anywhere), and so I’m still not 100%. (And there’s actually a terrarium in another room of the building that appears to be growing something similar, so the plot could still thicken here.)

They’re pretty cute, though, either way. As soon as we start to see more mature foliage on these plants I’ll update again with a more conclusive ID. The plants pictured here are way up at the top of the wall, and should produce a nice (albeit unplanned) cascading effect once they get going (again, presuming they’re even A. peruvianum).

The Carboniferous garden: Afrocarpus gracilior, Zamia furfuracea, Asplenium 
nidus, Microsorum pustulatum and Psilotum nudum. Image © In Situ Plants.
The Carboniferous garden: Afrocarpus gracilior, Zamia furfuracea, Asplenium nidus, Microsorum pustulatum and Psilotum nudum. Image © In Situ Plants.
Cyclosephala colasi on a Philodendron inflorescence. Photo © Marc Gibernau/Denis Barabé; retrieved from the International Aroid Sciety website.
Cyclosephala colasi on a Philodendron inflorescence. Photo © Marc Gibernau/Denis Barabé; retrieved from the International Aroid Sciety website.

“Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life.”

     -E.O. Wilson

One of In Situ’s primary goals as a company is to increase interest in plants in order to reconnect people to the natural world. We believe strongly in the hypothesis of biophilia, first conceived by the venerable E.O Wilson; the human need to commune with other living things. We feel as though this is why people have always kept plants indoors, and that now more than ever it is important to continue the relationship.

We use several strategies in order to further this goal of increasing interest in plants: making use of the wide variety of less-often used species is a good example, as the visual impact is immediate and apparent. Beyond plants’ appearances, however, lies the really fascinating stuff, and this is what we like to bring to light in our designs.

Even the most commonplace species can hold fascinating features when they are brought into context. For instance, the humble Philodendron, long a staple of interior landscapers, has a unique aspect to its physiology. The inflorescences (flowers) of many species are thermogenetic: they produce heat. And quite a lot of it, as well: some species’ inflorescences can rise 10°C above ambient temperature! This interesting adaptation serves to volatize aromatic compounds that attract pollinators, of which beetles are usually the primary ones. See here to read more about thermogenesis in plants.

The above is just one example of the countless facets through which one can look at plants. There are many themes which we have explored; below are but a few.

Biotopes

Plants’ natural habitats are, particularly in the case of the tropics, richly populated communities of species, with many growing closely around (or on, or in) each other. These ecological landscapes are referred to as biotopes, and these are interesting themes to explore, as they offer us a (somewhat stylized and selective) glimpse into where these species are from. To actually see these habitats in person is incredible, and we want to share this with our clients. Using solely plants from a particular region can highlight, for example, an area under grave threat of deforestation, highlighting the need for conservation.

Natural Variation within Species

The world of plants is one of incredible diversity, and even within species, an incredible amount of variation can be seen (see this post for more thoughts on this). Another perspective on this variation is convergent evolution, in which completely unrelated species evolve similar forms to solve the same problem. For example, many of the Euphorbia species from Africa and Madagascar often look for all the world like cacti (which are only present in the Americas), but are from a completely different family. These disparate species have come upon similar means of water storage (water-holding stems) and self defense (spines) that allow them to exist in some of the harshest habitats on earth.

Epiphytes

The epiphytes include many of our favourite plants, and many species which people are used to seeing in pots actually spend their entire lives without ever sinking their roots in soil. Orchids and Tillandsia bromeliads (the now very popular ‘air plants’) are some of the more commonly recognized ones, but the vast majority of tropical plant species are in fact epiphytic. Some of the more common epiphytes available are lipstick vines and goldfish plants (Aeschynanthus spp. and Columnea spp., respectively), begonias, many aroids such as Anthurium and Philodendron, and many ferns. Using exclusively epiphytes together allows us to see the richness of these plant communities living far from the forest floor.

The planting pictured here is a good example of how we are able to execute the types of themes we explore, and also of how we, too, learn something new about plants nearly every day. We really wanted to make use of a particular tree, Afrocarpus gracilior, (also known as the Weeping Podocarpus), as the texture of the foliage and its dense, shaggy habit makes a really dramatic statement. It is also unique in that it is a tropical conifer, distantly related to our familiar spruce and pine. This group of plants, the gymnosperms, does not produce flowers, though it does produce seed, and arose during the Carboniferous period of Earth`s history, some 300 million years ago. It is this latter fact that we decided to explore for this planting.

The Carboniferous is so named due to the fact that this is when the great forests that were destined to eventually be swallowed by the ocean and preserved in the familiar form of coal were at their peak. It would have been a different landscape than the one we are used to today, for flowering plants had not yet evolved, and more simple plants dominated the prehistoric flora. Among these were the simple vascular plants which reproduce via spore such as ferns, tree ferns, and allied families, and the first seed-producing plants, of which A. gracilior is one.

Another primitive plant which produces seed but no flowers is Zamia furfuracea, also known as the cardboard palm. This is a cycad, related to the more commonly seen Cycas revoluta or sago palm. This plant was definitely a candidate for this installation, and its coarse texture and olive colour contrasted perfectly with our Podocarpus.

We had to represent the family of ferns in this planting (being one of the dominant flora of the Carboniferous), and chose two that highlighted the extraordinary diversity of form seen in these plants. Asplenium nidus, the birdsnest fern, with its rosette form of bright green, undivided fronds, is an epiphytic fern that grows on trees in Australasia.  Microsorum pustulatum, the kangaroo fern, takes another approach to its growth: it creeps along on a hairy rhizome, from which emerge deep green, incised fronds which are more classically ‘fern-like’ than A. nidus.

One final plant was used in this installation: Psilotum nudum, the whisk fern. This species was chosen more for its story than for its form, which is nevertheless an attractive bunch of semi-erect stems, from which are produced spherical synangia, which contain the spore the plant uses to reproduce. The species has no leaves, no roots, and only half a vascular system, and is very primitive indeed in its physiology, and was a must-have for this planting. What we discovered in our research, however, was that there is some evidence that suggests that P. nudum may actually be descended from more complex fern species, and that it may have reverted for some reason to this very simple form. Perhaps we will never know for sure, but P. nudum is definitely a great representative for other similar species which were prevalent during the Carboniferous.

These themes tend not to be immediately apparent to the casual observer, of course, unless the plants are unified by a physical characteristic, and so the obvious question is why bother? We are able (and would be more than happy) to produce educational signage for anyone who wishes to show off the subtleties of their interior landscape, but we feel that with this much intent in our work, there will be a mood created which is tangible, and which adds depth and value to our landscapes. We hope to draw the viewer into our world and experience plants on a new level, and to connect them with a world most urban residents would never encounter otherwise.

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