Shorter Notes

Cyathea australis (of the south), the rough tree fern, synonym Alsophila australis, by virtue of its relative cold and slight frost tolerance, is one of the more practical tree ferns for probable success in u.S. gardens. In nature the trunk can reach 35 ft. (10.5 m) and supports bipinnate to tripinnate fronds of up to 15 ft. (4.5 m). New growth and old stipe bases are covered with spines. As this species shares habitats with the

Cyathea smithii and the rata tree (Metrosideros, which is endangered due to browsing possums) near the Fox Glacier on the South Island, New Zealand.

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White spines on the stipes of Cyathea australis at Wells Medina Nursery.

relatively cold hardy Dicksonia antarctica, there's optimism and hope for it as a potential ornamental in Zone 8 and certainly with confidence in Zones 9 and 10.

Cyathea contaminans is one of the speediest growing tree ferns if planted where it can get its roots down to constant moisture. Native to India, New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia on sites at least several thousand feet above sea level, it does not take to gardens in tropical lowlands. The fur will flake away in gobs if the gardener bothers it with a stick (out of curiosity), or some other creature with its jaws (out of hunger). The detaching fur will be enough to clog the throat. And to counter any animal smart enough to claw away the fur before biting, the plant has a secondary defense: a thicket of spines hidden beneath its pelt. Yet there is an appetite that braves its way past all that armature to gather these crosiers as food (along with the fiddleheads and tender young

Cyathea Tomentosissima
Scaly fronds of Cyathea tomentosissima.

fronds of 31 other fern species—arboreal down to knee-high—in the Asian Pacific regions of the world alone): the hungry human. (Description by George Schenk.)

Cyathea dregei (after Johann Drege, 1794-1881, a German horticulturist who collected plants in South Africa), synonym Alsophila dregei, is native to the open grasslands at 6300 ft. (1900 m) in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa and disjunct sites throughout the African continent. The trunk is up to 15 ft. (4.5 m) tall with arching bipinnate to tripinnate fronds to 9 ft. (2.7 m). The plant regularly withstands grass fires and frosts, although it will lose fronds in severe cold. Considering its provenance, it has great promise as an ornamental in Zones 9 and 10 (and is a temptation for Zone 8 coddling). Plants with small trunks are growing outdoors in Scotland's coastal Logan Botanic Garden and with considerable protection in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. The species would seem especially suited to Southern California.

Cyatheaprinceps (princely), reclassified in 2004 by Mickel and Smith as Sphaeropteris horrida, is a magnificent silhouette from wet montane habitats of Mexico and Central America where it grows with gusto to 60 ft. (18 m). Bipinnate to tripinnate fronds form a 15-ft. (4.5-m) canopy. Trunk, stipe, and rachis are covered with tawny scales that are especially showy on unfurling young crosiers. This fern has been tested with varying degrees of success in central England where the crown needs protection from winter wet and cold. It would

Cyathea contaminans in a Philippine garden, in a stone-retained bed of soil on a broad concrete sidewalk beside a pond fed by a brook. Planted when they were sporelings only two or three years old, with no trunk development at all, the two tree ferns found water and in five years went from trunkless to having trunks. The larger fern forms an overhead canopy 18 ft. (5.4 m) across on a trunk 8 ft. (2.4 m) tall. The smaller fern has a 6-ft. (1.8-m) trunk. Ultimate trunk height for both is expected to be about 20 ft. (6 m). Photo by George Schenk.

presumably be better suited to mellow southern England, coastal Scotland, Southern California, or Florida winters.

Cyathea tomentosissima (super hairy) bristles with burnt orange to rusty scales right down the midribs on the pinnules. For a tree fern it is modest in scale with a trunk of 6 to 10 ft. (1.8 to 3 m) and bipinnate to tripinnate fronds of up to 3 ft. (90 cm). More drought tolerant than most of its relatives, it is an easy choice for Zones 9 and 10 in sunny California and will tolerate the occasional frosty evening.

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