Ferns are amongst some of the oldest plant species in the world, this ancient genus has developed over 12,000 different varieties worldwide and although they are mostly found in tropical rainforests, enjoying moist, shady positions there are also those varieties that have evolved to cope with the cold and some will tolerate full sun.
Ferns mainly grow and spread out at ground level well beneath the canopy of the forest, this is the reason for their large graceful leaves which have developed to help the plants deal with growing in a lower light situation.
Tree ferns were growing at around the time of the dinosaurs and their beautiful shapes and elegant foliage have stolen the hearts of many of today's gardeners and garden designers. Truly a statement plant - they really create an architectural impact and a certain talking point.
Natively, Tree Ferns are found in rain forests in many areas of the world but the best known varieties are the hardy Dicksonia Antarctica found in Australia down to Tasmania - often called the Australian Tree Fern. Cyathea Medullaris and the smaller Dicksonia Fibrosa both from New Zealand. These species are exported from these countries in small quantities and Cyathea Medullaris in particular is a rare tree fern and hard to find in the UK.
Tree Ferns rely on the moist atmosphere to help with their reproduction, they mainly reproduce from spores on the underside of their leaves - but some also produce pups, springing from the main plant. In the wild, tree ferns can be knocked over by rooting animals, feral pigs for example and they will often shoot upwards again from the fallen trunk. When growing tree ferns in UK gardens - the hardier varieties are the best choice.
These specimen trees should not be allowed to dry out, particularly during the growing season and the crown of the fern (which is where all new growth will come from). The best way to water them is with a hose, thoroughly dousing the trunk - filling the crown of the fern with water should be avoided as this can cause the plant to rot. Despite being hardy tree ferns should be protected during cold winter spells either with straw or fleece around the crown and in particularly cold areas the trunk should be wrapped to insulate it against the cold. You may find that the fronds die off in the winter and new growth will develop from the crown in the Springtime.
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