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Killarney Fern

Trichomanes speciosum

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Plant Profile

Hymenophyllaceae (Filmy Fern)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
30 centimetres tall
Cliffs, mountains, rocky places, waterside, woodland.
Ferns do not have flowers.
The spores ripen in July and August.
The only fern in Britain with overwintering, translucent 3 to 4-pinnate leaves (fronds). A long lived perennial fern.
Other Names:
Beautiful Spleenwort, Elegant Spleenwort.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Other Information


Trichomanes speciosum, also known as the elegant spleenwort or beautiful spleenwort, is a species of fern that is native to North America, specifically in Canada and the United States. It is a small, delicate fern that typically grows to be about 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) tall and wide. The fronds are finely divided and lacy, and are typically a bright green color. The plant has slender, creeping rhizomes that allow it to spread over time to form small colonies.

This fern can be found in damp, shady places such as woodlands, along streams or waterfalls, or on rocky cliffs or talus slopes. It typically grows on acid soils, it is drought-tolerant and grows well in full sun or partial shade.

This species is not commonly used as an ornamental plant, but it can be appreciated by botanists and fern enthusiasts. It's a great choice for rock gardens, natural rock outcrops, or walls, as well as for growing in containers for alpine gardens.

It is a hardy fern and does not require a lot of care. It can be propagated by spores or by division of the rhizomes. It is drought-tolerant and can grow in full sun, but it prefers light shade or filtered sunlight. It is not picky about soil type, but it does prefer well-draining soil that is consistently moist, and they are very acid-loving plants.


Killarney Fern, also known as Trichomanes speciosum, is a delicate and beautiful fern that is native to New Zealand. This fern is a member of the Hymenophyllaceae family, which is known for its delicate, lacy leaves and intricate fronds. Killarney Fern is one of the most popular and widely cultivated ferns, prized for its striking beauty and unique features.

Appearance and Characteristics

The Killarney Fern is a small fern that typically grows to a height of 20-30 cm (8-12 inches) and has a spreading, creeping habit. The fronds are thin and delicate, with a shiny, dark green color and a delicate texture. The leaves are ovate or oblong in shape, with deeply lobed margins and a finely toothed edge. The fronds are borne on wiry, blackish-brown stems, which are up to 20 cm (8 inches) long.

The most striking feature of the Killarney Fern is its distinctive sori, which are the clusters of spore-producing structures on the undersides of the fronds. The sori are circular and are borne in a row along the midrib of the frond. They are covered by a delicate, hood-like structure known as the indusium, which protects the developing spores.

Habitat and Cultivation

The Killarney Fern is native to New Zealand, where it grows in damp, shaded areas in the understory of forests. It is found in a variety of habitats, from coastal forests to subalpine regions. It prefers damp, shady conditions and is often found growing on rocks or in crevices.

The Killarney Fern is a popular ornamental plant and is widely cultivated for its striking beauty. It is often grown in terrariums or as a houseplant, as it requires high humidity and indirect light. It is also suitable for outdoor cultivation in a shady, protected area.

Cultural Significance

The Killarney Fern has cultural significance for the Maori people of New Zealand, who have used it in traditional medicine for centuries. The fern was used to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory problems, fever, and digestive disorders. It was also used in spiritual rituals and was believed to have protective and healing properties.

In modern times, the Killarney Fern has become a popular symbol of New Zealand's natural beauty and biodiversity. It is often featured in art and design, and has been used on postage stamps and currency.

Conservation Status

The Killarney Fern is not currently listed as endangered, but it is considered a threatened species in some areas. Its habitat is threatened by deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and invasive species, and it is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Efforts are underway to protect the Killarney Fern and its habitat. Conservation measures include the establishment of protected areas, the control of invasive species, and the promotion of sustainable land use practices.


The scientific name for the Killarney Fern, Trichomanes speciosum, is derived from the Greek words "trichos" (hair) and "manes" (wrathful spirits), which refers to the hair-like fronds of the fern and its use in Maori spiritual rituals. The species name "speciosum" means "showy" or "beautiful", which describes the fern's striking appearance.

There are over 400 species of Hymenophyllaceae ferns, which are commonly known as "filmy ferns" or "lace ferns". These ferns are characterized by their thin, translucent fronds and delicate texture.


Killarney Fern can be propagated by spores, which are produced in the sori on the undersides of the fronds. The spores are released into the air when the indusia covering the sori dry up and fall off. Spores can be collected and sown on a suitable substrate, such as moist peat moss or sterilized soil, and kept in a warm, humid environment until they germinate.

Alternatively, Killarney Fern can be propagated by dividing the rhizomes, which are the underground stems that produce the fronds. Divisions can be made by carefully separating the fronds and rhizomes and planting them in a suitable substrate. This method is less common, as the delicate nature of the fern can make it difficult to handle.


In addition to its cultural and ornamental value, Killarney Fern has been used in scientific research. The fern has been studied for its antifungal and antibacterial properties, and has been shown to have potential as a source of natural products for pharmaceuticals.

In traditional medicine, Killarney Fern has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including coughs, colds, and stomach problems. It was also used as a diuretic and as a treatment for wounds and skin problems.


Killarney Fern is found throughout New Zealand, including on the North and South Islands, Stewart Island, and the Chatham Islands. It is also found on Lord Howe Island, which is located off the coast of Australia.

In addition to its native range, Killarney Fern has been introduced to other countries as an ornamental plant. It is commonly grown in greenhouses and conservatories, and can be found in botanical gardens and private collections around the world.

Ecological Importance

As a member of the Hymenophyllaceae family, Killarney Fern plays an important role in the ecosystem. Filmy ferns are known for their ability to absorb and hold moisture, which can help to regulate humidity levels in the environment.

The delicate fronds of Killarney Fern also provide habitat and food for a variety of insects and other invertebrates. The sori on the undersides of the fronds produce spores, which can disperse over a wide area and help to colonize new habitats.

In addition, the root system of Killarney Fern can help to stabilize soil and prevent erosion. The fern is often found growing on rocky surfaces, where it can help to break down and weather the rock over time.

Fern Etymology

The word "fern" comes from the Old English "fearn", which is related to the Old High German "farn" and the Old Norse "fjǫrn". The word "fern" is used to describe a group of plants that have a characteristic feature known as a frond, which is a large, divided leaf that is typically pinnate or palmate in shape.

In addition to Killarney Fern, there are thousands of other species of ferns around the world. Ferns are found in a wide range of habitats, from tropical rainforests to arctic tundras, and are known for their beauty, diversity, and ecological importance.


Killarney Fern is a beautiful and fascinating fern that is native to New Zealand. Its delicate fronds, distinctive sori, and cultural significance make it a popular ornamental plant and a symbol of New Zealand's natural beauty. Its ecological importance and the broader significance of ferns as a group highlight the diversity and complexity of the natural world. By preserving and protecting species like Killarney Fern, we can help to maintain the health and vitality of our planet's ecosystems for future generations.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

Click to open an Interactive Map