THE SUBJECT LINE in my inbox read: “Office plant retires after 30+ years.” The email began: “Hello, I wonder if you’d be interested in my office plant’s story. She is a rabbit’s foot fern (Davallia fejeensis).”
As a garden writer, I love exploring the relationship between gardeners and their gardens. Even when that garden is a windowsill in a law office in a downtown high-rise, where paralegal Cindy Clark (#plantmom) tended a fern for more than 30 years. I’m over the moon if I can keep a houseplant alive for more than a year or two. More than a little intrigued, I called Cindy to learn more.
Cindy told me she received her fern in the early 1980s, given a young plant in a container “about the size of a coffee cup” by another employee who was leaving the firm.
Remarkably, the fern has never been transplanted. But then, that’s not so surprising when you consider the plant’s native habit. Native to Fiji, rabbit’s foot fern is an evergreen epiphytic fern that thrives in bright shade in a humid environment. Those scaly surface rhizomes, the so-called rabbit’s foot part of the plant’s morphology, allow the fern to grow in trees and on rocks and other vertical surfaces, taking in moisture and nutrients without soil. The fern’s small pot is merely a perch. Which is to say, if you provide enough humidity and adequate light, a rabbit’s foot fern from Oceania will adapt to a sealed, climate-controlled office environment in Seattle.
Apparently, you can fool Mother Nature if you play by the rules.
Cindy faithfully watered her fern every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with a monthly boost of liquid fertilizer. For more than three decades, whenever she was out of the office or on vacation, Cindy recruited other employees to maintain the plant’s regimen. When I asked about any particular challenges, she promptly replied, “Winter.” The fern regularly struggled over Thanksgiving break and would often flag during the dark days of our region’s cloudy season.
With all this attentive care, Cindy’s fern flourished. The plant became a fixture at the firm, a soothing touchstone, with nature pumping out oxygen 40 stories above the city’s streets, and a point of engagement among employees.
When Cindy moved to an interior office, the fern stayed behind in a light-filled corner office reserved for temporary day use. “It got to the point where visiting associates would even request ‘the office with the fern,’ ” Cindy said.
“She’s famous,” Cindy told me. “She was even featured in the firm’s holiday spoof PowerPoint presentation — twice!” (I take the assigned gender as an indication of a growing relationship.)
Cindy — and her office plant — retired last year. These days, the lush rabbit’s foot fern, its fronds now stretching nearly 30 inches across, is comfortably settled into a sunny corner of Cindy’s home in Mukilteo.
Do you have a garden story to share? I’d love to hear it.