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Air Fern

1. Q. What is an air fern and how should it be cultured for maximum growth?

A. I was born in the dark but NOT last night! Don't hold your breath waiting for your "air fern" to grow. You may turn blue in the face. The air fern, which is billed in stores and some garden centers as a plant that needs no water or fertilizer, is actually the skeletal remains of a tiny sea animal called Sertularia, a distant relative of coral. The skeletons look like ferns and have extremely fine foliage. In stores they are also sold as "air plants" and "air moss". The skeletons are collected by ships which dredge for them along coastal areas in the estuaries of streams and rivers. They are then treated with chemicals and dyed green. If you have an air fern, don't water or fertilize it -- this exercise will be similar to trying to feed a corpse. And even worse, the water removes the dye and bleaches the stems. Also, if the air fern has been shipped or stored for any length of time, it is likely to have a rather strong odor, not entirely pleasant. It's best to let the fern air out before putting it in a closed room.

For more information about airfern, see the Fruits of the Sea Web site.

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