Botanically speaking it is Selaginella braunii, and is a real anomaly when it comes to common names, since it's not a fern.
It does share a fern trait: It doesn't flower, but produces spore-bearing cones. Its other common name is spikemoss and -- though it would look to be a natural fit in a mossy garden -- it is not a moss, either.
One aspect makes it a taxonomic dream plant: Known as a lycopod, it is among the oldest living plants on Earth. The arborvitae fern is a lycopod from China, and is just one of several hundred of these species, including some native to the United States.
The arborvitae fern is cold hardy. It will take awhile to form a clump but is well worth the patience required.
Select a site that is shaded to filtered light. The soil should be fertile, organic-rich and well-drained. This will provide for the fastest spread. Space plants informally on 2-foot centers to design your clump or drift.
Maintain a regular water regimen the first year as they are getting established and keep the bed area well mulched to prevent competition from weeds.
Woodland gardens are most effective when designed with winding paths or walkways. Use the arborvitae fern in drifts or clumps along these trails. Another strong attribute: They are not eaten by deer.
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga., and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden."
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