‘Hardy tree fern’
Dicksonia antarctica is the most commonly grown tree fern in colder climates. It has become very popular in the last decade with garden design programmes showcasing it as a feature plant giving your garden a tropical edge. The species gets its common name ‘Tasmanian Tree Fern’ from it’s abundance in the cool damp forests of Tasmania, the species is unique to Australia and can also be found in Victoria and New South Wales.
Carbon dating techniques have shown tree ferns date back to the Jurassic period. Tree ferns are unique instead of having a woody stem covered in a protective bark like a tree for instance, the trunks or caudex of tree ferns are composed of rhizomes modified to grow vertically. The rhizome carries nutrients to and from the fronds and roots. The trunk is covered with a dense miss-mash of roots allowing moisture to be retained. At the top of the trunk there is a growing tip which produces a number lush green of fronds which act like leaves and can grow to several metres in length.
In its native habitat Dicksonia antarctica experiences temperatures as low as -13°C (8°F). I would always encourage people growing the species where prolonged frosts occur to protect plants. Its not worth running the risk of losing your fern to the cold.
Family Name: Cyatheaceae.
Common Names: Tasmanian Tree Fern, Hardy Tree Fern, Soft Tree Fern, Australian Tree Fern
Position: Partial to full shade.
Soil: Humus-rich, neutral to acid soil.
Growth Rate: Slow.
Eventual spread: 6m.
Max Height: 10m (6m Cultivated).
Hardiness: Half Hardy – they are hardy down to -10°C and the foliage is hardy to -2°C.
Winter tips: Protect crown from frost by insulating with straw bound chicken wire.
Summer tips: Keep plants moist, water daily during the hotter periods.
The Tasmanian tree fern is the most commonly grown tree fern in the Northern hemisphere. This Australian tree fern came into the UK at the end of the 20th Century aboard ships returning from Australia.
The ships carrying goods back from the colonies used tree fern trunks as ballast or weights in their holds to prevent cargoes moving about in heavy seas. At docks around the South West of England the trunks were discarded on the quayside when ships were unloaded. It was here that people noticed these trunks were growing new fronds and that, in time, the ends of the trunks were turning upwards and starting to re-grow towards the light.
Nowadays when the Tasmanian tree ferns is exported it is sawn of top and bottom just leaving the trunk in the same way as the first ships did, however today the trunks turn up at your local garden centre and their not cheap! Some of the oldest tree ferns in the UK can still be found at gardens such as Trewidden and The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Read more
This short video shows the hardy tree fern Dicksonia antarctica growing abundantly in the cool damp forests of Victoria, its natural habitat.