Plants I love

We’re going on a fern hunt

My parents live above a rainforest gully on the south coast of NSW. On a misty morning it looks like this: beautiful and impenetrable.

Bundle Hill Bawley Point

On a sunny afternoon it looks just as impenetrable but a couple of weekends ago Dad and I donned long sleeves and long pants, grabbed a bucket and an adze and journeyed into the gully on a fern-hunting expedition. We had been inspired by a visit earlier in the year to Verdigris, a specialist fern nursery halfway up the Clyde Mountain between Canberra and the coast. The owners Dwayne and Kylie Stocks had wanted to grow something commercially. The looked around their property and decided to focus on what was already there –  ferns. (You can read a bit more about what they do and about the glory of the fern here.) Dad and I were keen to see what else we could find right here on Bundle Hill.

Bundle Hill Bawley Point

There are no paths in the gully, beyond what the wallabies and lyrebirds make when they return home from pillaging expeditions in mum’s garden. So the ground is uncertain beneath our feet, sometimes it’s earth, more often air under a pile of fallen branches on their way to compost. The soil is a sandy decomposed leaf litter that doesn’t have the body to ever make a mud pie. Perfect drainage in other words.

We had no trouble finding ferns; they were everywhere.

Fern hunting

Ferns are notoriously hard to identify. You need a mature frond, because the spore pattern on its underside is like a finger print of the family it belong to, plus information about the rhizome, the stipe (which is the stem of the fern) and details about the growing habit. So I’m foggy on precisely what we saw – but there were members of the Apslenium family, of which the bird’s nest fern is the best known; a few different maidenhairs Adiantum sp., and the wonderfully named doodia, whose new fronds glow red, especially when backlit.


We saw little white lilies, ancient staghorns, orchids growing out of the top of the rotting stumps of blackbutts that had unaccountably been logged and, best of all, the inspiring architecture and display of a bowerbird, complete with blue pegs, feathers and broken bits of crockery, and a blue wall plug.


We made one more stop a bit further on, where a watercourse rushes down the gully after rain. A movement caught my eye. We had wandered into a disco of dancing leeches. Their glossy black bodies were twisting and arching all over my shoes looking for a way in. I instantly reverted to childhood and screamed ‘Daddy Daddy get them off!’ while stamping my feet like toddler. He saved the day, coolly wrenching the blighters out of my shoes and socks with his fingers. We called it quits and clambered out of the gully.

Back in the garden I felt as if we had returned from a journey across space and time. We planted up our finds in little pots of the soil and mulch we had collected in the gully and now have fingers crossed for success. Most are camped in a sheltered spot at mum and dad’s, but I brought this one home:


It might be an immature Polysthichum proliferum. But then again, it might not.

(If you’d like to, you can stay on Bundle Hill. Mum and Dad have built four tree houses that look out over the beach and the ocean. Find out more here.)



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