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Rabbit's foot ferns cast spell

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 22, 2013 at 10:34 PM

My mother-in-law - three-time Yard of the Month winner at Rocky Creek Village retirement community - hasn't been home since New Year's Eve.

She had a stroke that night, and she's been in a hospital or nursing home ever since.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband started packing up some of her belongings. He came home with photo albums, furniture and her rabbit's foot fern.

Of all the plants crowding Leila Mai's little patio, he brought the one she has been growing for more than 40 years. He didn't realize when he hung it on our back porch that he was giving me custody of one of her treasures.

"It just looked like it needed some TLC," he said.

I'm not alone in viewing Leila's rabbit's foot fern as a family heirloom. Searching online for care directions, I found a plea from a young man desperate to help his ailing fern because it had belonged to his grandmother. On another site, a woman wrote about visiting relatives out West and finding the strange plant in the home of every cousin, every aunt.

"It was becoming easy to identify who my relations were just on the basis of whether or not they had a rabbit's foot fern," the woman wrote.

The plants are both beautiful and unusual: Filigreed fronds sprout from soft, pettable bunny paws, rhizomes that curl into a distinctive furry nest. They're easy to grow if you've got shade and bright, indirect light. Leila started many a new one by breaking off pieces of the rhizome and planting them in a mix of potting soil and peat moss.

I visited her last week to let her know I'm taking care of her rabbit's foot fern. She didn't recognize me at first, and looked unhappy sitting there in the day room. But she brightened when I brought up the fern.

"I love 'em," she said.

Penny Carnathan


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