Tree ferns a classic look

Stephen McCarthy A planting of Dicksonia squarrosa makes an attractive entranceway feature.

Tree ferns have become a New Zealand icon with both the name and their image being widely used.

The unfolding fronds of the tree fern are represented in the koru, now pretty much a symbol of our country.

If you want to give your garden a distinctive new Zealand flavour you could do no better than to include some in your landscape design.

New Zealand tree ferns are made up of two different genera -Cyathea, to which the mamaku or black tree fern and the silver tree fern belong, and Dicksonia the smaller rough tree fern or wheki.

Cyathea includes about 800 species which are found in tropical and subtropical forests with our species being the most southerly in distribution.

There are six species found here but the two most commonly met are C. medullaris the black tree fern or mamaku, and the well-known silver tree fern C. dealbata.

The mamaku is one of the world’s largest tree ferns, sometimes reaching over 18 metres and with individual fronds up to 6 metres, making a huge feathery umbrella.

In New Zealand it grows throughout the country apart from Canterbury and Otago, from sea level to about 600 metres. It is also found in some Pacific islands and in Tasmania and Australia.

Mamaku like lots of light and are not found in dense bush, but rather on the moist fringes of forests, river banks or in light gaps such as old slip sites or road cuttings.

These ferns are not at all cold hardy and does not grow naturally in areas experiencing hard frosts. In our area it grows naturally in the warmer coastal regions and in some inland places with a suitable microclimate. These ferns are very easy to grow in the right conditions where they are surprisingly fast growing.

The silver tree fern is easily distinguished from the mamaku, by having a distinctive silvery white underside to its fronds. It does not grow as tall, rarely exceeding 8-9 m and with fronds up to about 3.5 m.

Unlike mamaku, these ferns prefer some light shade and also grows in drier spots. If grown in an open situation its fronds can become ragged and untidy and neither species will do well, or look attractive in very windy sites.

Dicksonias are represented by three species in New Zealand. There are some other 30 or so species from mainly tropical areas.

The two which are commonly grown, D. squarrosa and D. fibrosa are both endemic and are found growing throughout the country.

Dicksonia squarrosa or wheki grows to about 6 m tall with fronds up to 2.5 m in length.

The upright stem of the fern is covered with the persistent black bases of old dead fronds. It has a spreading underground stock giving rise to subsidiary upright stems so that it will in time develop into an attractive small grove of varying sized plants.

They are much hardier than the mamaku standing quite hard frosts, and once established, surprisingly dry conditions.

Often seen for sale in garden centre, either potted up to grow or as ponga logs used for fencing or for garden retaining walls. When dug into the ground and watered well these bare stems will quickly develop roots and send out a crown of new fronds. Mind you they do have to be planted the right way up.

Dicksonia fibrosa, also endemic, is the tree fern used in the New Zealand winning entry in the Chelsea flower show some years ago.

It is exceedingly beautiful as its new fronds erupt all together in a shuttlecock of fresh bright green . Somewhat surprisingly it is not as commonly offered for sale as D. squarrosa. The very similar Australian species D. antarctica

is very popular in the UK where large specimens sell for several hundred pounds. It is a pity that we do not appreciate our version to the same extent.

All off these tree ferns are quite easy to grow, needing only an occasional watering in dry spells and the trimming of old dead and dying fronds to keep a neat appearance.

Unfortunately the tree ferns are often overlooked in the current fashion for native plantings, whereas they should be used widely to give gardens a truly indigenous feel.

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Dicksonia Species, Harsh Tree Fern, Rough Tree Fern, Wheki

Category:

Ferns

Water Requirements:

Requires consistently moist soil; do not let dry out between waterings

Sun Exposure:

Light Shade

Partial to Full Shade

Foliage:

Grown for foliage

Evergreen

Foliage Color:

Bronze

Height:

4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)

6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)

8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)

10-12 ft. (3-3.6 m)

12-15 ft. (3.6-4.7 m)

15-20 ft. (4.7-6 m)

Spacing:

36-48 in. (90-120 cm)

4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)

6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)

8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)

Hardiness:

USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

Where to Grow:

Unknown – Tell us

Danger:

Handling plant may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction

Bloom Color:

Inconspicuous/none

Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

N/A

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

5.1 to 5.5 (strongly acidic)

5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

Patent Information:

Non-patented

Propagation Methods:

From spores

Seed Collecting:

N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed

Regional

This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Eureka, California

Mckinleyville, California

Thousand Oaks, California

Portland, Oregon

This article was published in The Fringe, October 2015

Wheki

In this time of national debate about flags and symbolism, the silver ponga fern (Cyathea dealbata) was an early leader. But what of our other tree ferns? Why are they so neglected?

There are about 10 species of tree ferns in New Zealand although some are rather spreading or even prostrate rather than having the singular vertical trunk we tend to think of as a tree fern. They are divided into two genera, Cyathea and Dicksonia, depending on whether they have hairs along the frond or scales.

The significant difference is that Cyathea have scales which are broad at the base tapering to a point, while Dicksonia have hairs, much like our own, a regular one cell thick along their length.

The best known Cyathea are C. medullaris (mamaku) and C. dealbata (silver ponga) while the two most common Dicksonia are D. squarrosa or wheki and the thicker, single-trunked D. fibrosa or wheki-ponga. They both occur throughout New Zealand although D. fibrosa is rare north of Auckland.

There is a third species, Dicksonia lanata, but it is scarcely a tree fern as it has two low-growing forms. The northland form’s rhizome is more like the single trunk of the upright forms, except it is a prostrate trunk. Further south the underground rhizome or trunk tends to divide and spread widely with fronds arising 1.5m straight out of the soil.

Wheki grows underneath regrowth plants such as manuka and establishes in thick swards which prevent other species establishing as the dense layer of falling fronds builds up a carpet of litter too thick for most seedlings to penetrate. Wheki also grows in deep forest but generally as a more widely scattered colony allowing space for other species.

Dicksonia squarrosa has a complex, but very successful structure. Initially it has a single trunk just like Dicksonia fibrosa, but then goes on to produce aerial buds which burst randomly directly out of the trunk and proceed to grow into secondary trunks under the canopy of the original fronds. This clever survival technique allows the lower growing points to take over if or when the top one is damaged or dies. Not content with this strategy, wheki then develops its underground rhizome which can spread 2m from the original before emerging and growing upright as a seemingly separate plant. Of course, just like all ferns, wheki can also spread widely as the wind disperses its spores which have been produced on the underside of fertile fronds.

Even cutting the tree fern down at ground level will not kill it and it is the plant that provides all those trunks you see forming fences in front of many houses. Look closely and you will see the trunks sprouting koru from the aerial buds. In addition, there is likely to be a host of opportunistic epiphytic species which have established on the trunks prior to the tree fern being cut down.

Perhaps the flag debate should not be for or against the silver fern but rather which tree fern merits the honour of being the national symbol. If resilience counts for anything, then perhaps there is no better candidate than the wheki tree fern.

The significance of the silver fern

Although they are called ‘silver ferns’, the undersides of the fronds are usually white; only in some northern populations are they actually ‘silver’. The undersides reflect moonlight, making them useful aids to navigating bush pathways at night.

Caption

The white underside of Cyathea dealbata. Photograph by Leon Perrie. Te Papa

Symbolism

The silver fern has been accepted as a symbol of New Zealand’s national identity since the 1880s. To Māori, the elegant shape of the fronds stood for strength, stubborn resistance, and enduring power. To Pākehā (New Zealanders of non-Māori descent), the fern symbolised their sense of attachment to their homeland.

Looking up towards a Cyathea dealbata, showing its shape and strength. Photograph by Leon Perrie. CC BY-NC-ND licence

Brooch, ’NZ’, 1902, New Zealand, maker unknown. Purchased 2012. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH021677)

Butter box piece, maker unknown. Te Papa (GH010066)

Sports and military

The fern symbol’s association with our national representative sports teams and the armed forces over many years gives it deep emotional resonance for New Zealanders.

A jersey worn by the ‘Originals’ New Zealand rugby team (the All Blacks) in 1905–06, showing the silver fern prominently positioned. Photograph by Mike O’Neill. Te Papa

It has been worn by our national rugby teams since 1888, and its associations with the military are almost as long. First used by New Zealand troops fighting in South Africa (1898-1902), the fern symbol continued to be used to identify New Zealand units during both world wars and subsequent conflicts. The symbol’s greatest emotional impact of course comes from its use to adorn the headstones of our war dead.

Fun facts about the silver fern

  • It’s a scaly tree fern, with a trunk up to around 12m tall. There are two principal kinds of tree ferns – scaly and hairy.
  • It is widespread and common in the North Island. In the South Island, it occurs in the very north and sparingly along the east coast, but is absent from the west and south.
  • A similar and seemingly closely related species, Cyathea australis, occurs in Australia and Norfolk Island. Its frond undersides are also green rather than white/silver. Additionally, its reproductive structures are naked rather than demurely covered as in the silver fern.
  • The New Zealand women’s rugby team is known as the Black Ferns, a composite of All Blacks and Silver Ferns. Although they wear a silver fern on their jersey, the name Black Ferns recalls the black tree fern, or mamaku, which is New Zealand’s tallest tree fern.

Further reading

  • The silver fern – what is it?
  • Definitive scientific account of Cyathea dealbata, authored by Te Papa for Flora of New Zealand
  • Silver ferns at Collections Online

– Michael Fitzgerald, Honorary Research Associate & Leon Perrie, Curator Botany

The water fern (Histiopteris incisa) and several species of Hypolepis are opportunist species that get through their life cycle as quickly as possible. They germinate in disturbed soil, spread rapidly by means of aggressive and long-creeping rhi­zomes, and form highly-divided fronds. They cannot tolerate competition, and are quickly replaced by other colonising species which tend to shade them out. They disappear as quickly as they came, but liberate large quantities of spores which survive in the soil until future disturbance occurs, or disperse to freshly disturbed sites nearby.

Thermal regions are home to a few species of tropical origin that survive in New Zealand only in the very far north or in heated ground, where they are protected from winter cold. The fork fern (Psilotum nudum), Di cranopteris linearis, Cyclosorus interruptus and two undescribed species of Christella and Nephrolepis can be found around steam vents or along thermally heated stream banks in places such as Orakei Korako and Waimangu.

Looking at first glance like an aquatic clover, Marsileea mutica is a peculiar Australian freshwater fern. Originally imported as a aquamarine plant, it has been escaped into some North Island ponds.

A few ferns are found in freshwater sites, but as with many plants that occupy such habitats their appearance is highly modified. Pillwort (Pilularia novae-zealandiae) and quillworts (species of Isoetes) are found in lowland lakes and alpine tarns, but their undistinguished grass-like leaves mean that they are easily overlooked.

Quillworts produce their spores in the swollen bases of their leaves, not releasing them until the leaves rot. Pillwort forms hard, bean-like reproductive capsules only when the tarn dries out, and its uncoiling fronds are therefore the only characteristics that betray its affinities to other ferns. Pacific azolla (Azolla filiculoides), on the other hand, is hard to miss, forming crimson-coloured floating carpets on the surface of slow-moving streams and ponds.

Over 30 ferns and fern allies have been introduced to New Zealand and are now established in the wild. Most are known only from isolated records, often as escapees from cultivation. However, some are potentially invasive and a few have become serious weeds. The most significant of these are African clubmoss (Selaginella kraussiana), which occurs widely along stream banks and in damp forest, where it displaces native ferns, mosses and liverworts, and common horsetail (Equisetum arvense), which is an extremely invasive weed of riverbank sites in high-rainfall areas.

Less threatening are the now widespread male ferns (Dryopteris affinis and D. filixmas), royal fern (Osmunda regalis), which is well established in swampy areas of the northern North Island, and the ferny azolla (Azolla pinnata), which is common in slow-moving freshwater in northern New Zealand. Potentially more serious is the kariba weed (Salvinia molesta), an aggressive weed of hybrid origin that clogs many tropical waterways, but one which has been largely eradicated in New Zealand by a combination of careful management and temperate climate.

Of the 196 native pteridophytes, 89 (or 46 per cent) are endemic—that is, they are found nowhere else in the world. By contrast, 84 per cent of seed plants are endemic to New Zealand. One reason for this disparity may be that ferns produce spores that are much lighter and more easily spread by the wind than the heavier seeds of flowering plants.

There is some evidence for this explanation in that fern distributions are generally broader within New Zealand than those of flowering plants. More than 50 per cent of New Zealand ferns have distributions that extend across more than half of both islands. Also, about a quarter of all seed plants are confined to one of nine geographical regions within New Zealand, but fewer than 10 per cent of ferns are confined to these same regions.

Fern distributions are, in fact, correlated quite strongly with tempera­ture, rainfall and geothermal activity. While many species are widely dis­tributed, some are confined either to the warmer northern, or to cooler southern, regions. Others occur either in the wetter west, or drier eastern parts of the South Island.

Looking most unfernlike, Phylloglossum drummondiiis a 2 cm-high clubmoss—a fern ally. Its habitat is unusual, too: exposed gumland clays and sands of low fertility, such as occur in Northland.

Most endemic species have a predominantly southern distribution pat­tern. They occur primarily in cool lowland to montane forest. By contrast, species with a predominantly northern distribution pattern include a large number of species that occur also in Australia and tropical parts of the Pacific.

The occurrence of tropical species in northern New Zealand leads to consideration of where our ferns have come from. Have they evolved here in the 85 million years since New Zealand split off from Gondwana and became effectively isolated from the rest of the world, or have their light spores enabled them to be blown across thousands of kilometres of sea to germinate and establish in the islands of the New Zealand archipelago?

There have been widely conflicting views on this issue, but increasingly the evidence seems to favour the idea that most of New Zealand’s ferns have blown here relatively recently. Some 94 of our 194 native species occur also in temperate Australia, Norfolk Island or Lord Howe Island. Another 56 species occur also in tropical Australia, south-east Asia and the Pacific, 15 are shared with southern Africa, and 14 occur as far away as South America and the circum-antarctic islands. These figures alone point strongly to the great mobility of ferns.

The presence of fossilised ferns in rocks millions of years old once encouraged the idea that they are plants of ancient lineage that could have been part of the landscape that rafted away from Gondwana. Elsewhere in the world clubmosses, for example, can be traced back to the Devonian period (355-410 million years ago), quillworts to the Carboniferous (290-355 mya), some groups of tree ferns to the Triassic (205-250 mya) and comb ferns to the Jurassic (135-205 mya).

However, recent molecular biological techniques, combined with fossil evidence, are starting to show that a large group of fern families (including spleenworts, hard ferns, finger ferns and many other characteristic New Zealand groups) had not even evolved by the time New Zealand split from Gondwana. Moreover, the absence or presence of spores preserved in various deposits of known age within New Zealand indicates that the first appearance of most ferns was well after the break-up of Gondwana. This evidence suggests that much of our internationally acclaimed fern flora may, indeed, have arrived here quite recently, and leads to the demoralising conclusion that it might comprise little more than the cast-offs of our trans-Tasman neighbour!

Decorating this tree trunk is the epiphytic Hymenophyllum flabellatum, with a few fronds of the larger H. sanguinolentum.

Whatever the truth about the origin of New Zealand’s flora, the undeniable fact is that this country has an extraordinary abundance of ferns that can be enjoyed by almost anybody of any age and fitness. For example, over 120 species, or around 60 per cent of the total flora, can be found in the Wellington region alone—an area that involves a drive of barely more than an hour in any direction. (By contrast, there are fewer species in the whole of Great Britain and Ireland combined.)

In many places around Wellington it is easy to find more than 50 species in one locality. An afternoon stroll to Butterfly Creek near Eastbourne, to the old Kaitoke Waterworks Reserve near Upper Hutt, or even around the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary right in the heart of the Capital, will provide the observant pteridologist with an abundance of species growing happily in their natural environment. Just down the road from the sanctuary, the enthusiast can find many more species that are not native to the Wellington region growing in the fernery at Otari Garden.

Perhaps my favourite haunt is a small patch of forest in the Akatarawa Ranges on the incredibly narrow and circuitous road between Upper Hutt and Waikanae. Here, near the summit at a spot known locally as Waterfall Creek, I have spent many hundreds of hours observing and marvelling at ferns, and introducing them to innumerable groups of botanists, students, amateur naturalists and visitors to New Zealand. The area is a steep-sided stream gully in kamahi forest, sufficiently high and shaded to be permanently cool and wet—a perfect environment not only for ferns, but also for mosses and liverworts.

In the space of no more than half a kilometre, one can see examples of almost the full range of New Zealand fern diversity. Tall, graceful tree ferns line the roadside; hard ferns, spleenworts and species of Lastreopsis adorn the stream banks; lycopods, umbrella ferns and kidney ferns occur on the drier ridge tops, whilst an extraordinary profusion of crepe ferns fills the damper gullies. Filmy ferns smother the trunks of almost every tree, and in the darkest, dampest corners of rock, among the glow­worms sharp-eyed visitors can find little gems such as Trichomanes colensoi and T. endlicheriuanum.

Here, right by the roadside, almost literally at my back door, it is possible to get a genuine sense of the primeval vegetation that once clothed the whole of Aotearoa. I know of no other country in the world where ferns are so diverse, so luxuriant and so accessible to even the most casual observer, and it is easy to understand why they have become part of our national identity.

Heralding spring, a cluster of young fronds unfurls in the centre of a piupiu or crown fern, Blechnum discolor. Piupiu, which often forms extensive colonies on the forest floor, is one of the more ubiquitous species in this land of ferns.

Fabulous ferns worth growing

About 40 per cent of our native ferns grow nowhere else in the world.

Given that ferns survived hundreds of millions of years of extreme climate change and outlived dinosaurs, it is surprising how many I have killed in my garden.

I am pleased to say my success rate improved greatly as I became familiar with those ferns best suited to cultivation and understood their specific requirements. It is not actually that complicated, and they make such beautiful garden subjects that a bit of homework is well rewarded.

Providing free-draining soil, consistent moisture and appropriate light is key to successfully growing most ferns.

SALLY TAGG Kiokio fern.

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Foliage colour provides a useful clue to the degree of light required. Those with reddish new fronds usually tolerate most sunlight, and those with darkest green need most shade.

Although ferns are associated with wet places, most hate waterlogging which often happens in heavy soils. Their complicated reproductive processes do require water, but their fibrous roots require ample oxygen as well as constant moisture.

The gallery below lists ferns that make great garden subjects.

1 of 10PSTEDRAK/123RF 9 ferns worth growing in your garden. 2 of 10JACK HOBBS/NZ GARDENER Blechnum discolor: The distinctive shuttlecock form of the crown fern looks great grouped beneath trees. It is not difficult if given a free-draining soil with compost, mulch and regular moisture. Old specimens eventually form a short trunk. 3 of 10JACK HOBBS/NZ GARDENER Blechnum brasiliense: Brazilian tree fern is worth growing for its striking reddish new fronds. Although it forms a short trunk with age, it is not a true tree fern. The new growth is spectacular in spring. 4 of 10JACK HOBBS/NZ GARDENER Blechnum penna-marina: Sometimes known as alpine water fern, this tough little fern that steadily creeps to form a low tufted groundcover with lovely rose-pink new fronds. It takes full sun if kept constantly moist, and also tolerates wind and frost. Although not difficult to grow from spores, it is usually multiplied by division. Its natural distribution includes much of New Zealand including the Chatham Islands and Stewart Island. 5 of 10JACK HOBBS/NZ GARDENER Adiantum hispidulum: The rosy maidenhair fern is a low spreading native fern with soft, reddish new fronds that tolerates sun. Provided the soil is free-draining, it is very adaptable although it can become tatty in windy places and after frosts. It tends to die off in late winter, but new fronds soon reappear. In the wild, it is quite common in open scrub and coastal forests. 6 of 10JACK HOBBS/NZ GARDENER Asplenium bulbiferum: Hen and chicken fern is handsome and easy to grow, and brings a soft luxuriance to shady spots when mature. As a bonus, the bulbils that grow on the fronds can be removed and potted up to produce new plants. It hybridises with other species, and plants sold as this species are often a sterile hybrid (Asplenium bulbiferum x Asplenium dimorphum). 7 of 10JACK HOBBS/NZ GARDENER Adiantum aethiopicum: Mākaka is a lovely maidenhair fern that grows slowly but eventually forms a large soft drift. It is best in partial shade and tolerates cold although it can become semi-deciduous in very cold climates. 8 of 10JACK HOBBS/NZ GARDENER Adiantum formosum: If you are after a vigorous understorey beneath trees, the giant maidenhair is ideal. This tall native fern gradually spreads by underground rhizomes to form large impressive drifts. It is threatened in the wild with only a few remnant populations left in the lower North Island. 9 of 10JACK HOBBS/NZ GARDENER Asplenium ‘Māori Princess’: This excellent Asplenium bulbiferum hybrid has glossy arching fronds. Another hybrid, ‘Pacific Beauty’, is slightly larger and darker green, and even more luxuriant. 10 of 10JACK HOBBS/NZ GARDENER Asplenium oblongifolium: Shining spleenwort has long, arching, glossy green fronds that illuminate dry shady spots beneath trees.

Working lots of compost into soil prior to planting improves soil drainage and aeration.

I always apply organic mulch such as bark or wood chips after planting to retain moisture and keep roots cool, and I give them an occasional deep watering in dry periods.

Although ferns are most abundant in our forests, their habitats range from rocky coastal bluffs to mountainous areas. Many grow in humus-rich soil, some in rock and others as epiphytes perched in trees. Understanding their natural habitat helps to make the right choice for a garden.

JACK HOBBS/NZ GARDENER Asplenium bulbiferum.

​Māori used ferns in many ways, including for construction and weaving, and as food and medicine. They obtained starch from underground bracken (Pteridium esculentum) stems and the tuberous roots of king fern or para (Ptisana salicina).

The young unfurling fronds or “fiddleheads” of some ferns such as Asplenium bulbiferum were known to Māori as pikopiko and eaten as greens.

Many years ago, I filmed a story for Maggie’s Garden Show on a project researching the sustainable harvesting of pikopiko in a King Country forest. We then travelled to Whakarewarewa in Rotorua to cook the pikopiko with mussels in steam pots – a delicious combination.

JACK HOBBS/NZ GARDENER Blechnum minus at the world-famous Ayrlies Garden in Auckland.

Ferns are most abundant in the tropics, but New Zealand has a disproportionately high number of native species for a temperate climate with around 200 species. About 40 per cent of these occur nowhere else in the world.

Tree ferns such as mamaku (Cyathea medullaris) are a distinctive presence in our forests, but this article features smaller ground ferns that make reliable and attractive garden subjects.

For inspiration on weaving ferns artistically into a garden, I suggest a visit to Ayrlies Garden in Whitford, Auckland. Pukekura Park Fernery in New Plymouth also has an amazing array of ferns, or Te Kainga Marire is a gorgeous little New Plymouth garden featuring an array of native ferns.

NZ Gardener

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Look for these three tree ferns in the Zoo’s Fern Canyon.

Scaly tree fern Cyathea cooperi

Originally native to eastern Australia, this is one of the most common tree ferns found in subtropical regions, since it is fast growing and quick to establish. It gets the name scaly tree fern from the pattern of marks on its trunk left by fallen fronds, which somewhat resemble the scales of a reptile. It’s also sometimes called the lacy tree fern because of its delicate frond structure. This fern can grow to 40 feet (12.2 meters) in height, and its elegant, arching fronds can be over 10 feet (3.1 meters) in length.

Black tree fern Cyathea medullaris

This species is considered the king of the New Zealand tree ferns, and its native Maori names include mamaku, katata, korau, or pitau. It also grows on several Pacific islands, including Pitcairn, Marquesas, Samoa, Tahiti, and Fiji. It is a striking fern with a slender, black trunk and elegant, long fronds that arch upwards from the crown. The upper surfaces of the fronds are a shiny, dark green and the undersides are a lighter jade green.

Tasmanian tree fern Dicksonia antarctica

This species is considered one of the most cold tolerant, surviving temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius). Other common names for this attractive, dark green fern include hardy tree fern, soft tree fern, and Australian tree fern. It is found from southeastern Queensland, through the New South Wales and Victoria coastal areas, and in Tasmania. In the wild this species prefers to live in moist areas like creek beds, in gullies, and occasionally at high altitudes in cloud forests.

Tasmanian tree ferns were one of the species that became popular during the fern craze of the 19th century. The first to arrive in the United Kingdom came aboard ships returning from Australia, where they served as ballast or weights in the holds, to prevent cargo moving about in heavy seas. At the docks, the trunks were discarded when the ships were unloaded. People began to notice that these trunks were growing new fronds and that, in time, the ends of the trunks were turning upwards and starting to grow toward the light—showing they could be at home in Britain.

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