Selaginella pallescens
Moss Fern


Selaginella pallescens

Selaginella pallescens, or Moss Fern, is native to North and South America, from Mexico to Colombia and Venezuela. The common name 'Moss Fern' is misleading, however, as this plant is neither a moss, nor a fern, but a member of a phylum of plants with relatives that formed much of the world's coal supply in the Carboniferous. This living relative lacks flowers, but it is advanced in the sense that it produces both male and female spores -- a large step from the unisexual spores of mosses and most ferns. The fronds (actually branching systems) reach 1-2 feet (30-60 cm) in height and will spread to 2 feet (60 cm) in width. Plants make a good groundcover in USDA zone 7 and are very showy when used as a background plant for smaller ferns and in moist rock gardens. They are hardy in USDA zones 6-9.

Blooming Time: Selaginellas are allied with the ferns and do not flower, instead producing inconspicuous 4-angled strobili (aka cones) that are ~1/3-inch (1 cm) long.

Culture: Selaginella pallescens need partial shade to full shade. They require a well-drained, organically rich soil and humid conditions. We use a soil mix consisting of 2 parts peat moss to 1 part loam to 1 part small pine bark. They like plenty of water and humidity, which makes them good terrarium subjects, or groundcovers under greenhouse benches, or as a groundcover in shaded areas of the landscape. They respond well to light fertilizer applied on a weekly basis during the growing season. In containers, water should be restricted in the fall and winter, but the soil should never be allowed to dry. When grown outside as a groundcover they are very attractive when used in conjunction with ferns.

Propagation: Selaginella pallescens is propagated by division or by spores. Spores are placed on a moist peat and sand mix and covered with glass until the spores germinate. Then the new plants are potted in individual containers.

Selaginella pallescens was featured as Plant of the Week June 25-July 1, 2004.

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