Lacy tree fern

Lacy tree fern

For gardeners wanting a tropical appearance without large rainforest trees, the lacy tree fern (Cyathea cooperi) has considerable appeal. This fast growing, slender plant reaches five to ten metres in height with a trunk width of 15 centimetres and so does not take up much ground space. The delicate, bright green, three-metre-long fronds emerge from the top of the trunk casting filtered sunlight below. As with all ferns, the young fronds unfurl from their coiled crozier or fiddlestick with its white hair-like scales, creating another dimension to their elegant appearance.

Native to the east coast of Australia from Cooktown to central NSW, it is usually found growing along forest margins and eroded gullies in moist, well-drained soils with morning sun. Once established this pioneer fern is very hardy in frost-free areas. The fine root system, like other ferns, spreads laterally and the trunk is an extension of the underground stem or rhizome. For this reason, much of the plant’s moisture uptake is through the stem.

The lacy tree fern was an important food source for indigenous people – the soft pithy tissue near the top of the trunk contains a lot of starch. The trunk was split to remove this pith that was eaten either raw or roasted. This, however, killed the plant. A sustainable practice of harvesting and roasting the new growth (croziers) as a dietary staple ensured the life of the plant.

Cyathea cooperi, Scaly Tree Fern
Cyathea cooperi
Photograph by Neil Murphy.

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