This blog post was written by Fee Anastasi, owner of Fee's Fernhouse, Gordonvale Queensland.
Tassel Ferns and Club mosses are fern allies that date back to the Carboniferous Period millions of years ago according to fossile records. The belong to the Family Lycopodiaceae, which contains four Genera that include more than 200 species worldwide. The genus Huperzia comprises of terrestrial species and a unique group of epiphytes that are known as Tasel Ferns. The exact number of Australian species is difficult to determine as little research has been carried out but there are about 17.
Tassel ferns grow on trees or rocks and are found mostly in rainforest or in moist sutations in other forests. Many occur at high altitudes on trees covered with mosses and other epiphytes such as Basket Fern (Drynaria rigidula or Bird's Nest Fern (Asplenium australasicum or Asplenium nidus)
Tassel ferns are easy to grow but have certain requirements. They make extremely decorative basket plants and are ideal for greenhouses. The hardier species can be grown in outdoor tropical gardens under suitable conditions if their natural growing environment is copied. They need air movement, humidity and light for growth but should be protected from wind and scorching direct sunlight.
Tassel Ferns will nto survive in soil. Sutiable potting mixes must drain well, provide plenty of aeration around the roots andyet retain moisture for growth. A mixture of peat, various grades of treated pain bark and charcoal has been found suitable. Do not use Platycerium peat. Granulated styrene can also be included for aeration and dolomite may be added to adjust the pH to around 6.5.
Tassel Ferns like to be kept on the dry side of moist but not wet and need more water in summer than in winter. It is best to water in the morning so the growing medium can dry out which will help to reduce the incidence of stem and root rot.
At regular intervals during spring and summer Tassel ferns can be fertilised with half strength applications of liquid fertiliser as fish emulsion and seaweed extract or soluble fertilisers that do not have really high nitrogen content. Slow release fertilisers with trace elements can also be included in the fertilising program.
Pests and diseases
Tassel ferns are not often troubled with pests but fern scale can cause damage to the plant and will eventually kill it if not treated. The fern scale has the appearance of dessicated coconut scattered on the stems and sometimes among the sori of fertile fronds and causes yellowing of the stem around where it is feeding. Despite its tiny size, this pest is particularly destructive and should be controlled as soon as it is noticed. Badly infested stems should be removed and destroyed by burning and then the plant should be treated with the appropriate pesticide, according to the instructions, at intervals of 10 days until the pest is eradicated.Even though the pest is destroyed the scale covering can sometimes remain visible on the stem. Snails, slugs and cockroaches have been known to eat the tips of young shoots. If Tassel Ferns have been over-watered or kept wet for long periods then there may be problems of stem or root rot. Watering in the morning is a good practice and how much water to apply depends on the season. A systemic fungicide can also help, depending on the fungus being treated.
Tassel Ferns can be propagated by a variety of methods including division, from stem cuttings or by tip layering. Some species (H.prolifera, H. carinata, H. squarrosa) produce aerial growths from among the tassles. If they come into contact with a suitable growing medium they can become established and eventually become separate plants.