Nonflowering Plants

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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The nonflowering plants are the seedless vascular plants. These include the club mosses, horsetails, and ferns. Their cousins are the seeded vascular plants, a more complex grouping. These include the conifers, ginko (the Maidenhair tree), cycads (palms), gnetae (an odd group that doesn't figure into gardens), and flowering plants (a major group of modern plants that do figure into gardens). Plants we might think of as nonflowering--ivy and hosta, for example--are technically flowering.

The nonflowering plants do not produce any blossoms, vibrant or otherwise, but what they lack in color, they make up in texture. More often than not, they are shade lovers. Ferns are the nonflowering plants we use, or can use, in our gardens, whether indoor or outdoor.

Designing with Nonflowering Plants

Color is used for more than dramatic effect in gardens. It is just as effective in creating spatial illusion. Texture can be and is used in the much same way. Nonflowering plants with bold textures--broad leaves, for example--tend to advance and make an area appear smaller or closer. Bear's breech (Acanthus mollis) or hosta at the far end of a long narrow strip of flowers will appear to shorten the length. Pale colors and finer textures--whether maidenhair or hayscented fern--help create an illusion of more depth.

One very easy garden fern (Dryopteris carthusiana), commonly known as Toothed Wood, grows to about 24 to 35 inches high and adapts well to moist and even wet soil. It is good for massing or as a specimen in a woods garden. Another, the American Maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum), is especially popular as a foundation planting or groundcover, has finely textured fronds, and grows to about 24 inches high. It is found naturally on ravine bottoms and rich wooded slopes.


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