Tree fern

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A tree fern near Belles, Dominica Rainforest near Belle - Dominica.jpg
A tree fern near Belles, Dominica
Alsophila sp. tree ferns overlooking a valley in Misamis Oriental, Philippines Alsophila sp. tree ferns - Misamis Oriental, Philippines 01.jpg
Alsophila sp. tree ferns overlooking a valley in Misamis Oriental, Philippines

The tree ferns are arborescent (tree-like) ferns that grow with a trunk elevating the fronds above ground level, making them trees. Many extant tree ferns are members of the order Cyatheales, to which belong the families Cyatheaceae (scaly tree ferns), Dicksoniaceae, Metaxyaceae, and Cibotiaceae. It is estimated that Cyatheales originated in the early Jurassic, [1] [2] and is the third group of ferns known to have given rise to tree-like forms. The others are the extinct Tempskya of uncertain position, [3] and Osmundales where the extinct Guaireaceae and some members of Osmundaceae also grew into trees. In addition there were the Psaroniaceae and Tietea in the Marattiales, which is the sister group to most living ferns including Cyatheales.


Other ferns which are also tree ferns, are Leptopteris and Todea in the family Osmundaceae, which can achieve short trunks under a metre tall. Fern species with short trunks in the genera Blechnum , Cystodium and Sadleria from the order Polypodiales, and smaller members of Cyatheales like Calochlaena , Cnemedaria , Culcita (mountains only tree fern), Lophosoria and Thyrsopteris are also considered tree ferns.


Tree ferns are found growing in tropical and subtropical areas worldwide, as well as cool to temperate rainforests in Australia, New Zealand and neighbouring regions (e.g. Lord Howe Island, etc.). Like all ferns, tree ferns reproduce by means of spores formed on the undersides of the fronds.


Reconstruction of Tempskya, an extinct fern from the Cretaceous Tempskya sp. - MUSE.jpg
Reconstruction of Tempskya , an extinct fern from the Cretaceous

The fronds of tree ferns are usually very large and multiple-pinnate. Their trunk is actually a vertical and modified rhizome, [4] and woody tissue is absent. To add strength, there are deposits of lignin in the cell walls and the lower part of the stem is reinforced with thick, interlocking mats of tiny roots. [5] If the crown of Dicksonia antarctica (the most common species in gardens) is damaged, it will inevitably die because that is where all the new growth occurs. But other clump-forming tree fern species, such as D. squarrosa and D. youngiae, can regenerate from basal offsets or from "pups" emerging along the surviving trunk length. Tree ferns often fall over in the wild, yet manage to re-root from this new prostrate position and begin new vertical growth.


Tree-ferns have been cultivated for their beauty alone; a few, however, were of some economic application, chiefly as sources of starch. These include the Sphaeropteris excelsa of Norfolk Island that was threatened with extinction for the sake of its sago-like pith, which was eaten by pigs. It is now widely cultivated as an ornamental tree, although there is only one small wild population on Norfolk Island. [6] Sphaeropteris medullaris (mamaku, black tree fern) also furnished a kind of sago to people living in New Zealand, Queensland and the Pacific islands. A Javanese species of Dicksonia (D. chrysotricha) furnishes silky hairs, which were once imported as a styptic, and the long silky or wooly hairs, abundant on the stem and frond-leaves in the various species of Cibotium have not only been put to a similar use, but in the Hawaiian Islands furnished wool for stuffing mattresses and cushions, which was formerly an article of export. [7]


Transplanted Dicksonia antarctica tree ferns at Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park, North Devon, England Nzfern.arp.500pix.jpg
Transplanted Dicksonia antarctica tree ferns at Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park, North Devon, England

It is not certain the exact number of species of tree ferns there are, but it may be close to 600-700 species. [8] Many species have become extinct in the last century as forest habitats have come under pressure from human intervention.[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cyatheales</span> Order of ferns

The order Cyatheales, which includes most tree ferns, is a taxonomic order of the fern class, Polypodiopsida. No clear morphological features characterize all of the Cyatheales, but DNA sequence data indicate the order is monophyletic. Some species in the Cyatheales have tree-like growth forms from a vertical rhizome, others have shorter or horizontal expanding rhizomes.

<i>Cibotium</i> Genus of plants

Cibotium, also known as manfern, is a genus of 11 species of tropical tree ferns. It is the only genus in family Cibotiaceae in the Pteridophyte Phylogeny Group classification of 2016. Alternatively, the family may be treated as the subfamily Cibotioideae of a very broadly defined family Cyatheaceae, the family placement used for the genus in Plants of the World Online as of November 2019.

<i>Dicksonia antarctica</i> Species of fern

Dicksonia antarctica, the soft tree fern or man fern, is a species of evergreen tree fern native to eastern Australia, ranging from south-east Queensland, coastal New South Wales and Victoria to Tasmania.

<i>Sphaeropteris cooperi</i> Species of fern

Sphaeropteris cooperi, synonym Cyathea cooperi, also known as lacy tree fern, scaly tree fern, or Cooper's tree fern, is a tree fern native to Australia, in New South Wales and Queensland.

<i>Dicksonia squarrosa</i> Species of fern

Dicksonia squarrosa, the New Zealand tree fern, whekī or rough tree fern, is a common tree fern endemic to New Zealand. It has a slender black trunk that is usually surrounded by many dead brown fronds.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cyatheaceae</span> Family of ferns

The Cyatheaceae are a family of ferns, the scaly tree ferns, one of eight families in the order Cyatheales in the Pteridophyte Phylogeny Group classification of 2016. Alternatively, the family may defined much more broadly as the only family in the Cyatheales, with the PPG I family treated as the subfamily Cyatheoideae. The narrower circumscription is used in this article.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dicksoniaceae</span> Family of ferns

Dicksoniaceae is a group of tropical, subtropical and warm temperate ferns, treated as a family in the Pteridophyte Phylogeny Group classification of 2016, and counting 30-40 species. Alternatively, the family may be sunk into a very broadly defined family Cyatheaceae sensu lato as the subfamily Dicksonioideae. Most of the genera in the family are terrestrial ferns or have very short trunks compared to tree ferns of the family Cyatheaceae sensu stricto. However, some of the larger species can reach several metres in height. A number of others are epiphytes. They are found mostly in tropical regions in the Southern Hemisphere, as far south as southern New Zealand. Larger tree ferns in the genus Cibotium were formerly included in Dicksoniaceae, but are now segregated as the family Cibotiaceae.

<i>Thyrsopteris</i> Genus of ferns

Thyrsopteris is a genus of tree fern. It contains a single living species, Thyrsopteris elegans, endemic to the Juan Fernandez Archipelago off the coast of Chile. Thyrsopteris is the only genus in the family Thyrsopteridaceae in the Pteridophyte Phylogeny Group classification of 2016. Alternatively, the genus may be placed in the subfamily Thyrsopteridoideae of a more broadly defined family Cyatheaceae, the family placement used in Plants of the World Online as of November 2019. The oldest records of the genus are the species Thyrsopteris cretacea and Thyrsopteris cyathindusia which were described from the Burmese amber of Myanmar, dating to the Cenomanian of the Cretaceous period, around 99 million years ago. Other fossil species include Thyrsopteris antiqua from the Upper Cretaceous of Chile and Thyrsopteris shenii from the Paleogene of King George Island, Antarctica A thyrsopterid rachis is also known from the Upper Cretaceous of Japan.

<i>Sphaeropteris medullaris</i> Species of fern

Sphaeropteris medullaris, synonym Cyathea medullaris, commonly known as mamaku or black tree fern, is a large tree fern up to 20 m tall. It is distributed across the south-west Pacific from Fiji to Pitcairn Island. Its other Māori names include katātā, kōrau, or pītau.

<i>Sphaeropteris excelsa</i> Species of fern

Sphaeropteris excelsa, synonym Cyathea brownii, commonly known as the Norfolk tree fern or smooth tree fern, is probably the largest fern species in the world. It is endemic to Norfolk Island, in the Pacific Ocean near Australia and New Zealand. It is named after the botanist Robert Brown (1773-1858).

<i>Sphaeropteris</i> Genus of ferns

Sphaeropteris is a genus of tree fern in the family Cyatheaceae. It has been treated as a subgenus within the genus Cyathea, but is accepted in the Pteridophyte Phylogeny Group classification of 2016.

<i>Alsophila australis</i> Species of fern

Alsophila australis, synonym Cyathea australis, also known as the rough tree fern, is a species of tree fern native to southeastern Queensland, New South Wales and southern Victoria in Australia, as well as Tasmania and Norfolk Island.

<i>Alsophila capensis</i> Species of fern

Alsophila capensis, synonym Cyathea capensis, is a regionally widespread and highly variable species of tree fern. It is indigenous to Southern Africa and South America.

<i>Alsophila glaucifolia</i> Species of fern

Alsophila glaucifolia, synonym Cyathea glauca, is a species of tree fern endemic to Réunion. Little is known about this species.

<i>Alsophila smithii</i> Species of fern

Alsophila smithii, synonym Cyathea smithii, commonly known as the soft tree fern or kātote, is a species of tree fern from New Zealand.

<i>Cibotium menziesii</i> Species of fern

Cibotium menziesii, the hāpuʻu ʻiʻi or Hawaiian tree fern, is a species of tree fern that is endemic to the islands of Hawaiʻi. It is named after the Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies. It is also known as the male tree fern, and Cibotium glaucum is deemed the female tree fern due to differences in color.

<i>Lophosoria quadripinnata</i> Species of fern

Lophosoria quadripinnata(J.F.Gmel.) C.Chr. is a species of fern that, according to DNA molecular analysis, belongs to the family Dicksoniaceae, where it is placed in the genus Lophosoria. It is found in the Americas spanning from Cuba and Mexico to Chile. In Chile it is present in the area between Talca and Aysén including Juan Fernández Islands. In Argentina it grows only in the humid valleys of western Neuquén and Río Negro Province. Diamondleaf fern is a common name. In Spanish it is known as 'ampe' or palmilla, but one has to remember that there are several species of ferns called "palmillas" that have larger or smaller fronds, and which grow in colder climates. It is a medium-sized plant, growing to about 4–5 feet and even though the rhizome does not grow a trunk, it is clearly related to the other tree ferns due to features that were apparently already present in their common ancestor, like 'pneumathodes', and the rhizome which changed from the dorsiventral symmetry typical of the other ferns, to a radial symmetry typical of tree ferns. Their large and multiple pinnate fronds, with the petiole raised adaxially, and the hairs on the rhizome and lower part of the petioles, also resemble those of tree ferns. To identify the species, use the position and characteristics of the spores found on the fertile fronds. The genus already existed in the Cretaceous Period in southern Gondwana according to fossil remains found in Antarctica. The species is well known as an ornamental plant.

<i>Alsophila borbonica</i> Species of fern

Alsophila borbonica, synonym Cyathea borbonica, is a tree fern endemic to Mauritius and Réunion. There are several natural forms and varieties.

<i>Culcita macrocarpa</i> Species of plant

Culcita macrocarpa, the woolly tree fern, is a species of fern in the family Culcitaceae native to Macaronesia and parts of the Iberian Peninsula, where it might have been introduced. It is the only member of the order Cyatheales that is native to Europe.

<i>Cibotium glaucum</i> Species of plant

Cibotium glaucum, the hāpu‘u pulu, is a species of fern in the family Cyatheaceae, native to Hawaii. A slow-growing tree fern typically 6 to 10 ft tall but reaching 25 ft (8 m), it is hardy in USDA zones 10 through 12. Its fiddleheads are the source of the material pulu, which means "mulch" or "padding" in the Hawaiian language Women used pulu as an absorbent during their menstrual cycles.


  1. Historical reconstruction of climatic and elevation preferences and the evolution of cloud forest-adapted tree ferns in Mesoamerica - NCBI
  2. Chronogram of the Cyatheaceae and other tree fern lineages
  3. Martínez, Leandro C.A.; Olivo, Mariana S. (August 2015). "Tempskya in the Valanginian of South America (Mulichinco Formation, Neuquén Basin, Argentina) — Systematics, palaeoclimatology and palaeoecology". Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology. 219: 116–131. doi:10.1016/j.revpalbo.2015.04.002. hdl: 11336/49538 .
  4. Trends and concepts in fern classification - NCBI
  5. Stem - The University of Auckland
  6. "Norfolk Island Plants". Norfolk Island National Park. Australian Government Parks Australia. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  7. Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Tree-Fern". Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 235.
  8. McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology. Vol. 18 (11th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. 2012. p. 642. ISBN   978-0071792738. OCLC   785808931.