On recent walks through the LSU main campus, New Orleans City Park and Jungle Garden at Avery Island, I was struck by the beauty of the live oaks and the resurrection ferns found growing on them. For some reason, the word resurrection reminded me that Easter will be celebrated by many on Sunday.
The recent burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral this Holy Week also conjured up memories of two huge events in Louisiana for me. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the great flood of 2016. Out of tragedy and destruction, often nature reminds of true hope and beauty. For example, the Peggy Martin Rose and resurrection ferns.
There is a unique story behind the rose found having survived after being submerged under saltwater for two weeks after Hurricane Katrina. During 2005 when the devastating hurricane hit Louisiana, Peggy Martin was living in Plaquemines Parish in southeast part of Greater New Orleans. When Mrs. Martin returned to her home after the evacuation from the storm, she found only two surviving plants, one of which was a climbing rose that had been started from cuttings and was passed down to her.
William Welch, a horticulturist with Texas AgriLife Extension, was a guest of Martin before the hurricane hit. He was fond of the climbing, thornless rose and had gotten cuttings of it. After the hurricane, he wanted to do something to give back to the areas devastated by the storm and by doing something kind for Peggy.
Welch had received his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture and both his master’s and doctoral degrees in extension education and horticulture from LSU. Touched by her loss and those of the Gulf South that had been affected by the storm, he propagated and sold the plant, naming it the “Peggy Martin” rose. He then used some of the profits that were collected and sent them to Garden Club of America Horticulture Restoration Fund for the historic gardens of the Gulf South that had been devastated by the hurricane.
Peggy Martin roses are a Southern favorite due to their ease of care, disease resistance and gorgeous, prolific pink blooms. Plants can be easily found at local retail nurseries and are a wonderful addition to home gardens. The climbing roses are often planted along fence lines and trellises and can grow 6 to 15 feet in height and width. They should be planted in full sun and grow in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9. They are semi-thornless with clusters of beautiful pink blooms that will repeat but not continuously bloom beginning in spring. They can be pruned for shaping or to remove dead canes and vines and should be fertilized in spring with a rose or complete fertilizer.
Resurrection ferns, like the Peggy Martin rose, symbolize the dichotomous and beautiful hope that nature and these plants can offer after such devastating events.
The resurrection ferns are epiphytic plants, commonly known as air plants, that absorb all of their nutrients from the air. They find support on branches and trunks of large trees, particularly favoring live oak just as much as Southern gardeners and another common epiphyte, Spanish moss, do. The resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides) gets its name because it can lose more than 75 percent of its water content during a drought yet still remain alive. The ferns will dry up and turn brown, appearing dead during this time. But when it is watered again, the fern will “come back to life” and return to its once-green color. Hence the name “resurrection.”
These ferns are naturally low maintenance and will grow natively in USDA hardiness zones from 6 to 11. They are not commonly found in local nurseries but can be readily found in natural settings and transplant easily. Some specialized nurseries may sell these in small quantities.
The resurrection fern is not a commonly sought after, just admired for its unique characteristics and familiarity to the Southern landscape. A tiger-shaped topiary of resurrection fern sits outside J.C. Miller Hall, the horticulture building on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. It was created from ferns found naturally occurring on the live oaks on the grounds surrounding the building. Peeled from the bark of dead limbs that had fallen on the ground, it was easily placed and continues the cycle of browning and greening with droughts and rain showers.
Like Louisiana did after Katrina and the great flood of 2016, France will rebuild the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. When we perceive what is possible in nature with these two examples of the Peggy Martin rose and the resurrection fern, it is not hard to imagine what can come from the ashes.
Heather Kirk-Ballard, LSU AgCenter horticulturist