Journey to Jurassic era with primitive plants
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Dinosaurs are such popular reptiles these days that it seems appropriate to plan a garden in which they would feel at home. A number of plants whose leaves rustled at the swish of dinosaurs tails are still around today.
What we are looking for are plants that were around about 100 million years ago. Asked to picture what plants would be in a dinosaurian landscape, most people think first of ferns -- and rightly so. Ferns were abundant in Jurassic days, and you don't need a steamy swamp to grow them successfully as long as you match the fern species to the planting site. For example, maidenhair fern and bulblet bladder fern thrive in alkaline soils, while hay-scented fern and mountain wood fern prosper in acidic soils. A boggy soil could be home to lady fern or sensitive fern; in a dry soil, interrupted fern and rock fern would be the ones to grow. And don't think that all ferns need shade. Virginia chain fern and ostrich fern get along just fine in the sun.
Any dinosaur garden also should have room for horsetails, plants that are so primitive that they have only inconspicuous leaves, each with a single vein. Scouring rush is one kind of horsetail that not only would make a dinosaur feel at home, but also would create an interesting contrast in form to the arching fronds of the ferns. Another horsetail, common horsetail, grows closer to the ground, about a foot high, and each plant's orderly whorl of bright green branches makes a patch of them look like a forest of miniature pine trees.
For even smaller plants that also look like pine trees, there are the primitive clubmosses. They're not really trees and they're not even woody, but they are evergreen -- and ancient.
Gingko is a tree that is cold hardy and was quite common when dinosaurs roamed the earth. What really sets this tree apart from others are its leaves, which have the wide blade of a maple yet the parallel venation of a conifer.
A dinosaur garden need not be a sea of only greenery. Let's include a few showy flowers to round out this garden. How about magnolias and dogwoods? One potential problem is that the sight of a magnolia or a dogwood might make a dinosaur feel uneasy. These primitive trees were making their entrance just as dinosaurs were making their exit.