Variegated Ribbon Fern (Pteris cretica var. albolineata) kerbside in a Northcote drainage pit.
Sold in Melbourne as early as 1873, the variety remains widely cultivated today as both an indoor potted fern and an outdoor plant appropriate for brightening small shade beds. Native to Southern Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, the species is frost tender, but a drainage pit connected to underground warmth presents a functional option to escape winter chills. The fern has established itself on both sides of the pit, including beneath an ample stand of Pellitory (Parietaria judaica).
The variegated type of P. cretica has recently been observed growing in gullies in Sydney’s northern suburbs; the species has also been collected once in suburban Melbourne.
Fern posts are being rationed out so that this channel doesn’t become Ferns of Melbourne. However, at this point the ground feels stable enough to assert that spontaneous ferns on structure are a rare but ubiquitous element of our metropolitan environment. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that a careful search would locate multiple occurrences and multiple species in any inner suburb.
Both the strike rate and the number of viable niches for most of the fern species seen here may always be low relative to more pervasive weeds, but the sheer density of the city’s petrophytic opportunities and our horticultural obsessions are also such that neither are these occurrences absurdly rare unicorns. Two other species, Tender Brake (Pteris tremula, which has been repeatedly featured) and Adiantum maidenhairs (we’ll get to them) may in fact be common enough in Melbourne to be worthy of specific attention as ‘urban’ populations.