Draw whatever conclusion you will, but I couldn’t help thinking of the term “resurrection” as I prepared to pen a garden story for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I thought of the darkness (literal and figurative) that engulfed the city for so long and how, bit by bit, life and light were restored.
In the plant world, there are a few species that have the word “resurrection” in their common names. The resurrection fern is one and you don’t need to look very far to find one. You’ve seen it countless times, encrusting the branches of the mighty oak trees that line so many of our grand streets and populate our parks. The Latin name is a tongue twister: Polypodium polypodioides.
When drought conditions dominate, the leathery fronds of the resurrection fern curl up, exposing their undersides. As they shrivel, they change colors to a grayish brown hue. But when moisture returns, the fronds unfurl and green-up gloriously within a day or so. The plant is exceptional in that as much as 90 percent of its moisture can be lost without it dying; many plants can lose only 10 percent before succumbing.
For reproduction, the plant produces spores which can be carried by a breeze and deposited in nooks on an oak or cypress tree, allowing the plant’s rhizome to develop and fronds to grow. Resurrection ferns are epiphytes, meaning they draw the moisture and nutrients they need from the air. So fret not if your favorite oak wears a fern mantle — the plant isn’t a parasite and won’t hurt your tree.
Another plant that seems to rise from the dead is the resurrection lily, or Lycoris squamigera, a member of the amaryllis family. From a bulb buried 6 inches deep, strappy leaves appear in the spring only to die back in the heat of summer. But that isn’t the final act, just intermission. In late summer, a 2-foot-tall leafless stem shoots out the dirt and erupts with an array of four to seven trumpet-shaped flowers that it bears aloft. There are a few other common names for resurrection lily (surprise lily, magic lily) but nothing beats this one: naked ladies.
The resurrection lily looks best in a group of three to five of its sisters, so consider ordering bulbs now for October planting. And because the bulbs multiply, be prepared to dig and divide them in five years or so.
By then, Hurricane Katrina will be 15 years gone and it will be time once more to take stock of the city’s recovery and near-miraculous resurrection.