When Betty Bosworth of Little River first saw her staghorn fern, it was at a flea market in New Port Richey, Fla., in 1984.
“It was just odd-looking, and I thought I’d try it,” she said
Bosworth, 93, paid $3 for the plant and had no idea how large it would become over the next 20 years. While the fern continued to thrive, it also began to take over Bosworth’s living space, but it was fortunate enough to land in a most elite spot — Brookgreen Gardens.
Bosworth’s fern originally bounced around in a motor home with her and her late husband, Ray, as they traveled up the coast from their retirement home to their home state of Pennsylvania. Its size eventually ended its road trips until it traveled to South Carolina in 2003 with Bosworth, who decided to move closer to family after her husband died. Her daughter made a special trip to Florida just to load the plant in her car and drive it to its new home.
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“Whatever’s out there, I pick it,” said Bosworth, a nature lover who has always brought the outdoors inside with her collection of plants, driftwood and rocks. She wasn’t about to leave her staghorn fern behind.
It became apparent, however, that the plant was going to continue to spread and eat up too much space. About eight years ago, Betty Bee, Bosworth’s neighbor and close friend who passed away a few weeks ago, suggested she contact Brookgreen Gardens and inquire if there could be a home for it there. The staff warmly invited Bosworth to bring her plant to Brookgreen, Bee provided her van, and together, the ladies transferred the fern to its current home.
Bosworth and her late husband were seasoned travelers, who journeyed across the country 17 times in their motor home, visited every province of Canada and traveled to Alaska, where they experienced many wildlife sightings, including grizzly bears and caribou. Her Little River home features treasures from those days, including a pair of antelope heads mounted on her wall.
“We had to lie in a dry creek bed so the antelope wouldn’t catch our scent,” she said, recalling how she tagged along while her husband hunted them in Wyoming.
But Bosworth had not visited her staghorn fern since Brookgreen Gardens adopted it, until Oct. 8, when her friend and neighbor Sandy Baker planned a surprise visit for Bosworth’s 93rd birthday. Last year’s birthday wasn’t so happy, as Bosworth’s beloved pet bird, Baby Doll, flew out a window, never to return.
This year, Baker wanted Bosworth to have a different birthday memory.
“She is my inspiration,” Baker said. “She’s so fun to do things with.”
Baker, Bosworth and Bee traveled to Brookgreen, where Baker and Bosworth said they received a warm welcome from the staff, including Karen Sinkway, administrative assistant, and Vicki Richardson, greenhouse manager, who enthusiastically reunited Bosworth with her staghorn fern.
“It looks absolutely huge now,” Bosworth said. “It’s such a beautiful plant. … They’ve taken really good care of it.”
Bosworth received an extra surprise when her daughter and granddaughter joined them at Brookgreen, and they celebrated her birthday at one of the garden’s cafes as the staff sang “Happy Birthday” and served cake to everyone. Bosworth also was given a begonia.
Richardson said Bosworth’s staghorn fern is about 4 to 5 feet across and about 3 1/2 feet tall. It hangs from a live oak tree in front of the area known as Anne’s Garden, near the gift shop, during the warm months, but it is moved into the greenhouse when the temperature drops into the 60s and below.
Richardson said she is not an expert on staghorn ferns, but she knows the plant is tropical in nature and will continue to propagate itself by perpetually producing spores, so it continues to give life to itself by re-blooming.
“It looks very healthy, and it’s doing well,” Sinkway said. “It’s a fine specimen.”
The fern’s caretakers and admirers marvel at the fern’s longevity and lush appearance. Although it’s very well-traveled for a plant, the fern’s green, leafy body doesn’t reflect its life on the road.
“The plant just keeps adding on,” Richardson said. “If you keep taking good care of it, it should keep on going. It doesn’t really have a lifespan exactly.”