Knowledge Grows at Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia
By Galen Patterson
Rows of potted plants run along two walls of a meeting room at the Los Angeles Arboretum. At the entrance, a retired high school teacher waits patiently next to raffle tickets and an attendance sheet. Members slowly filter in and mingle, discussing anything and everything biological. This is the most recent meeting of the Los Angeles International Fern Society.
The members come from various counties in southern California, including Orange, San Bernardino and Los Angeles. They know each other well and openly share their love for plants with one another. This club however, is about ferns.
Norman Nakanishi is a retired high school agriculture teacher whose passion for plants has been a dominant theme in his life. Nakanishi grew up on a strawberry farm, and in high school became fascinated by rare and exotic plants. The fern that piqued his interest is called a Staghorn Fern, a peculiar species that resembles the upside-down bust of a slain and stuffed trophy buck.
Staghorns grow naturally in jungles and require high temperature and humidity. They are an epiphytic species, meaning they grow on other organisms, like trees, without stealing nutrients or impacting the host negatively. They attach and exist, like a tenant who always pays rent on time and handles its own expenses. “There are 18 species of Staghorns around the world,” says Nakanishi. Minutes later, member Fernando Orellana enters the room with an almost-perfect Staghorn he has raised, not an easy task in southern California’s dry climate.
The meeting is soon brought to order, and after guests are publicly made welcome, members begin the “show and tell” phase, where they bring up species they found and educate their fellow enthusiasts or have questionable specimens identified. Then, Don Delano, a horticulturalist, newly appointed board member for the 48th District Agricultural Association, and farmer at The Farm at Fairplex grabs the attention of the room and begins to share his wealth of knowledge with the club.
Delano loves sciences and nature. He calmly explains the contents of soil mixtures and the roles of different components in them. He crushes pearlite between his fingers, explaining how it is made and where it comes from. Then he elaborates on its uses and size differentials to help paint a better picture of its importance in home-growing plants.
Delano demonstrates the best method of properly dissecting ferns while surgically cutting away at the root structure of a Boston Fern. Within minutes, he is mixing soils and potting tiny ferns that will take months to grow into the magnificence of the parent plant, but with Delano’s help, they will survive to maximize the amount of pollutants they take in from the air.
One of Delano’s main interests is things that can often be overlooked. “I like the miniature things that grow in extreme environments.” He points to different ferns on the table and explains more about them, then paints a vivid mental picture of the African Savannah, where some plants survive extreme drought with gusto.
After Delano’s demonstration, members mingle and eat a plethora of sweets and goodies provided by each other. One member, who commutes to the meeting from Indio, CA, has brought his own homemade ice cream to share.
The night concludes with a silent plant auction. Members wait patiently to hear their number called as Donna Radoumis, head of publicity for the club, shares her story and love for the organization. She points to a neonatal anesthesiologist, a real estate agent, and Elaine Baxter, a home wife, demonstrating the diversity of the people and how they come together to share their love for nature. “These are the greatest group of people,” says Radoumis.