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What is Davallia?

By Todd M.
Updated May 16, 2024
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Davallia is a genus of ferns with finely delineated fronds that uncoil from creeping rhizomes, a kind of root structure. There are over 40 different species of Davallia ferns, many of which are cultivated as houseplants or as ornamental plants for gardens. The most popular fern in this genus is the lush and easy to grow Davallia trichomanoides, more commonly known as squirrel's foot fern. Davallias grow in trees as epiphytes, or non-harmful parasites, in their native habitats of Australia and Southeastern Asia. They are also often seen growing in hanging baskets on front porches and in residential kitchens.

Squirrel's foot ferns have large, stout rhizomes, covered in brown scales, that grow quickly during the spring and summer. The fern can be identified by its 6 to 8 inch (15 to 20 centimeter) long triangle-shaped fronds that are densely dissected into oblong, heavily toothed segments. A thriving squirrel's foot fern will produce fresh fronds throughout the growing season that will turn a pleasant shade of yellow as they age. Older fronds should be removed as they age in order to encourage new growth. Like all Davallia ferns, squirrel's foot ferns are deciduous and will loose all of their fronds as they enter a two to three month dormant period during the late fall and winter.

Other common Davallia houseplants include D. fijiensis and the D. mariessi. Commonly known as the rabbit's foot fern, D. fijiensis has triangular fronds with long stalks and delicate, bright green blades that make this species useful as a formal ornamental plant. D. mariessi, or Japanese ball fern, has short, egg-shaped fronds and rigorous rhizomes that can withstand freezing during the winter in areas with a humid climate.

In addition to true members of the Davallia genus, Scyphularia pentaphylla and Humata tyermannii are two types of ferns that are informally considered to be Davallia ferns. Scyphularia pentaphylla has fronds that are almost identical to those of the squirrel's foot fern, but this fern is ground-growing and is best cultivated as a potted plant. Humata tyermannii, or bear's foot fern, is also commonly mistaken for squirrel's foot fern and can easily be cultivated as a garden fern in tropical and some temperate climates.

New ferns can be propagated in the early spring by dividing a healthy plant or using cuttings from the newest rhizomes of a well-established plant. Divided Davallias should be planted in a clean basket that is lined with multiple layers of sphagnum moss and filled with a very loose mix of sticks, tree bark and dead roots. Fertilizing the fern multiple times during the growing season will result in dense, healthy foliage and creeping rhizomes that can be used to propagate more ferns if desired.

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