Friday, 2 August 2013

Adiantum cuneatum

The Magic of Radio
Maiden hair fern

      We've employed a mobile mechanic to see to our cars over the years and now he also maintains my daughter Laura's Nissan. She wanted it servicing and the m.o.t. doing a few days ago, so she brought it to our house and he picked it up to take it to do the test. He was back within minutes:

      "It's in a bad way", he said irritably, haven't you noticed that horrible crunching noise? Your back bearings are knackered".

      "Oh, that noise", she said dismissively, "I've not been worried about it because it goes away when I turn the radio up".

      This is her version of burying ones head in the sand and I suppose we all do it to some extent. Life wouldn't be bearable without the ability to turn ourselves off from the atrocities on the evening news or the certain knowledge that we're overpopulating and polluting our planet to extinction. Live for the moment, it may be the only one there is. This is how I approach do-it-yourselfing: the job only gets done when whatever it is stops working or (and this is the more frequent likelihood), when my wife tells me to do it.

      The bathroom floorboards creak. They always have, but it had got to the stage where my services were called for and I got out the hammer. It seemed quite straightforward really - just bash a few nails in to stop the boards moving and everyone'd be happy. This is probably what Napoleon thought when he decided to give Russia a visit, then he cocked it all up by forgetting to add hot water bottles to the luggage list. What I forgot was the fact that some damn plumber was quite likely to have situated a hot water pipe right where I needed to bash a nail.

      I've never actually seen Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park but what happened when I bashed the nail must come a pretty close second. A jet of water shot out of the bathroom floor, causing me to step back to avoid being elevated on it like a ping  pong ball at fairground  rifle range. Although this may be a slight exaggeration, what followed wasn't: I resorted to rule one in such cases which states 'if in doubt - panic', achieving this with such remarkable success that my wife evacuated the house while I nearly did the same with my bowels. It wasn't the fear of the ceiling below collapsing under a flood of water that engendered such fear, but my wife's probable reaction to it. To say she didn't have high regard for my handyman prowess would be an understatement on a par with 'Michael Foot was a fashion icon'. Resources like using the technique of the little boy who stuck his finger in the dike weren't available to me. The point being that it was alright for him because the water in the dike wasn't hot. Anyway, after doing my little John Cleese dance again ( I 'm sure he got it from me), I resorted to the rather mundane alternative of rushing downstairs and turning the water off at the mains. I then rang my mate who is an expert at dealing with such situations and he came and sorted it out by cutting out the section with the hole in it and replacing it with a new piece, held in place by pressure joints. However, the bathroom floorboards still creak. I justified this to my wife by pointing out that if a burglar should break in, we'll hear him.

      "But only if he goes for a crap", she responded. She thinks she's funny.

      The panic engendered by this event echoed something that had happened way back when we were in our first house: I was standing at the sink washing up when something hit me on the back of the head and a series of explosions followed. I dived for cover and could feel wetness trickling down my head. It must be blood. I was dying. This being during the cold war, we were under attack by the Russians. That daft bugger Khruschev had bashed his shoe on the red button by mistake.  

      What was trickling turned out to be wine - a lot of it. We had made  it and filled bottles, stacked on top of the freezer in a wooden rack which acted remarkably like a rocket launcher.  Apparently the wine must have still been fermenting when we bottled it and the ensuing pressure caused the corks to blow out. On the positive side, this had great educational value: when one went off, the rest of them joined in - a perfect example of a chain reaction. Anyway my wife ran in to find me lying on the kitchen floor thinking I was dying and stinking like a brewery. The bottles which remained intact we gave away to people we didn't like and after that, we reverted to cheap German wine. Even anti-freeze is better than a Russian attack.

      So my life, probably like that of most people, stumbles from cock-up to cock-up but I've recently learnt a pristine, gold plated truth from my daughter: when it starts to hit the fan, turn up the radio.

      You've probably guessed that the obvious link with this is Ligularia stenocephala 'The Rocket', although that's not the only one that came to mind. I've mentioned it before in relation to sites adjacent water, where it thrives in the moist soil During dry weather the leaves tend to droop at the height of the day, so it's best if it has some shade at this time. However, this isn't always possible and I find it picks up later when the day gets cooler.

      Perhaps a less obvious link is Adiantum cuneatum (maidenhair fern). 'Cuneatum' means 'wedge shaped' and it refers to the leaves. Not hardy enough to grow in the garden, this thrives in the humidity of a bathroom. Its common name 'maiden hair fern originates from the hair-like appearance of the leaf stems and was the basis of a one time belief that it was a cure from baldness. The thinking behind this emanates from the doctrine of signatures, which was a theory that a bloke called Theophrastus came up with: he thought that plants which resembled parts of the human body could be used to cure sickness in that area; a cyclamen leaf is shaped a bit like an ear, for example, so if you had an ear problem, stuffing one down it should do the trick. You wouldn't be able to hear anything though, because there was a cyclamen leaf stuffed dow..... Well, you get the idea. Another example can be seen in lesser celandine: the roots have appendages which look a bit like piles, so they used to make a root tea by pouring on  boiling water. I'm not sure what the next step was, but assume that you'd have to have someone with you to scrape you off the ceiling if it involved applying boiling tea to hemorrhoids.

      The Adiantum in the picture is on a north facing window sill, so gets very little sunshine, and it thrives. Originating in tropical North and South America and the West Indies, the plant has very delicate leaves and exposure to direct sunlight can cause browning fairly quickly. I took one to a talk on a hot day and, after about an hour in the car, the leaves were a sad sight and not a good advertisement for my credibility as I spouted about how to get the best from plants.  I've found that, during the summer, watering is best done by standing the fern in a tray full of water until it has all gone, leaving it a couple of days, then repeating the procedure. In the winter, much less water is required. If you grow the plant in a drier part of the house, it will benefit from being regularly sprayed with water during the summer.
Maiden hair fern showing black, hair like stem. Hence the name

      Another plant thriving in the same situation is Anthurium andreanum, the flamingo flower. In fact there are any number of good 'bathroom plants' and it's worth doing a bit of research to determine the best one for the situation you've got. A good houseplant book is the Reader's Digest 'Success with House Plants. Its a pretty old publication and I'm not sure whether its still in print but it's usually easily found in second hand book shops and charity shops. At the back is a comprehensive table of plants showing their individual needs for light, humidity, temperature and so on.

     These plants like a moist atmosphere, and if the bathroom isn't humid enough, you could always try banging a nail through the hot water pipe.  

Anthurium andreanum (flamingo flower)


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