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Australian Tree Fern

Dicksonia antarctica

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Plant Profile

Dicksoniaceae (Hairy Tree Ferns)
Evergreen tree
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
4 metres tall
Gardens, parks, woodland.
Dicksonia antarctica does not actually produce flowers. It reproduces via spores, which are released from structures called sporangia on the undersides of its fronds (leaves). This type of reproduction is characteristic of ferns, which do not have true flowers or seeds like flowering plants (angiosperms). Therefore, there are no specific months when Dicksonia antarctica flowers because it does not flower at all.
The spores of Dicksonia antarctica are small, dust-like structures produced on specialized structures called sporangia, which are found on the undersides of the fern's fronds (leaves). These sporangia are organized in clusters called sori. When mature, the sporangia release the spores, which are dispersed by wind. Each spore is a single-cell structure capable of germinating into a tiny, heart-shaped structure called a prothallus. The prothallus eventually develops into a new fern plant through a process involving both sexual and asexual reproduction.
The fronds of Dicksonia antarctica are strikingly large and feathery, growing up to 2 to 4 meters in length. Emerging from a central trunk covered in fibrous roots and old leaf bases, each frond consists of a tough, fibrous stipe supporting numerous lance-shaped leaflets (pinnae) arranged symmetrically. These glossy, dark green leaflets feel rough to the touch due to small scales and hairs on their surface, aiding in moisture retention. The fronds form a dense, circular canopy at the top of the trunk, with new growth continually emerging from the center. Besides their role in photosynthesis, the fronds bear sporangia on their undersides, which release dust-like spores for reproduction. This combination of size, texture, and reproductive function makes the fronds of Dicksonia antarctica both visually striking and functionally essential to its survival and propagation.
Dicksonia antarctica does not have a noticeable fragrance. Unlike many flowering plants that attract pollinators with scent, tree ferns primarily rely on their visual appearance and structural characteristics for reproduction and survival. Therefore, they are not typically associated with any distinctive or fragrant smells in their natural habitat or when cultivated in gardens.
Other Names:
Man Fern, Soft Tree Fern.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Other Information

Dicksonia antarctica, commonly known as the Australian Tree Fern, is a striking fern species native to southeastern Australia and parts of Tasmania. It features large, feathery fronds that can grow up to 2 to 4 meters in length, emerging from a sturdy, fibrous trunk covered in old leaf bases. The plant reproduces via spores produced on the undersides of its fronds rather than through flowers or seeds. In the UK, it thrives in mild, sheltered coastal regions where it adds a tropical and exotic aesthetic to gardens, parks, and occasionally in woodland settings. Despite its imposing appearance, it is not edible and lacks fragrance, focusing instead on its ornamental value and ecological role in moisture-rich environments.


In the verdant landscapes of southeastern Australia and the lush forests of Tasmania, a botanical marvel stands tall amidst the greenery — the Australian Tree Fern, scientifically known as Dicksonia antarctica. Revered for its grandeur and distinctive appearance, this ancient fern species captivates with its towering fronds and intriguing life cycle.

Origin and Habitat

Native to the cool, moist forests of southeastern Australia and parts of Tasmania, the Australian Tree Fern thrives in shaded, sheltered environments where moisture levels are consistently high. It can be found nestled among eucalyptus forests, alongside creeks, and in gullies where it benefits from the humidity and protection offered by surrounding vegetation.

Physical Characteristics

The Australian Tree Fern is renowned for its impressive size and architectural beauty. Mature specimens can reach heights of 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet), with its iconic fronds extending outward in a graceful, feathery canopy. Each frond emerges from a thick, fibrous trunk, which is actually a mass of tightly packed roots and old leaf bases, giving it a unique textured appearance.

The fronds themselves are a marvel of nature's design, featuring a tough, fibrous stipe (stem) that supports numerous lance-shaped leaflets (pinnae). These leaflets are glossy dark green and feel rough to the touch due to the presence of small scales and hairs, which help the fern retain moisture and protect it from environmental stressors.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Unlike flowering plants, the Australian Tree Fern reproduces through spores rather than seeds. On the undersides of its fronds, specialized structures called sporangia produce microscopic spores. When these spores mature, they are released into the air, where they can disperse and settle in suitable moist environments.

From these spores, tiny heart-shaped structures known as prothalli develop. These prothalli contain both male and female reproductive organs, facilitating fertilization and the eventual growth of a new fern plant. This complex life cycle highlights the fern's adaptation to its environment and its reliance on moisture for reproduction and survival.

Cultural Significance and Gardening Appeal

Beyond its natural habitat, the Australian Tree Fern has gained popularity as an ornamental plant in gardens and parks around the world. Its dramatic silhouette and tropical appearance add a touch of exoticism to landscapes, particularly in mild, coastal regions where it can thrive with adequate moisture and protection from frost.

In garden settings, the fern's towering presence makes it a focal point in shaded areas or alongside water features. Its ability to create a lush, green backdrop and provide a sense of tranquility has endeared it to gardeners seeking to evoke a tropical ambiance even in temperate climates.

Ecological Importance

In its native habitat, the Australian Tree Fern plays a crucial role in the ecosystem. Its dense fronds provide shelter and habitat for various small creatures, while its ability to thrive in shaded areas helps maintain soil moisture and prevent erosion. As an indicator species for healthy, moisture-rich environments, the fern's presence often signifies a balanced ecosystem where biodiversity can flourish.

Cultivation and Care

For those interested in cultivating the Australian Tree Fern, mimicking its natural habitat is key. It thrives in well-drained, humus-rich soil with consistent moisture levels. Planting in a shaded or partially shaded location protects it from direct sunlight, which can scorch its fronds. Regular watering, especially during dry periods, helps maintain its lush appearance and supports healthy growth.

40 Impressive Facts About the Australian Tree Fern

Here are 40 impressive facts about the Australian Tree Fern (Dicksonia antarctica):
  1. Dicksonia antarctica is native to southeastern Australia, including Tasmania.
  2. It is commonly known as the Australian Tree Fern or Soft Tree Fern.
  3. In its native habitat, it can reach heights of up to 15 meters (50 feet), though in the UK it typically grows to 2-4 meters (6.5-13 feet).
  4. The fern's trunk is not actually wood but composed of tightly packed roots and old leaf bases.
  5. It has a slow growth rate, with new fronds emerging from the center of the crown annually.
  6. The fronds of Dicksonia antarctica can span up to 4 meters (13 feet) in length.
  7. It is well-suited to mild, coastal climates in the UK where frosts are infrequent.
  8. In the UK, it thrives in shaded, sheltered locations with high humidity.
  9. The Australian Tree Fern is one of the hardiest tree fern species, able to withstand temperatures down to -5°C (23°F) with protection.
  10. It is tolerant of coastal winds and salt spray, making it suitable for gardens near the sea.
  11. The fern's fronds are dark green and feathery, adding a tropical touch to gardens.
  12. In the wild, it grows alongside creeks, in gullies, and under the canopy of larger trees.
  13. Dicksonia antarctica prefers moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter.
  14. It can live for over a century in favorable conditions.
  15. The fern's dense crown provides habitat for various small animals and insects.
  16. It is a low-maintenance plant once established, requiring regular watering during dry spells.
  17. Propagation in the UK often involves purchasing established plants or spores for cultivation.
  18. The fern's roots are shallow and fibrous, spreading widely to anchor it in place.
  19. It is not a true tree but a fern species that grows upright.
  20. In gardens, it serves as a focal point in shady spots or near water features.
  21. The Australian Tree Fern has cultural significance in garden design, especially in creating lush, tropical themes.
  22. Its growth pattern makes it suitable for use as a natural screen or backdrop in landscaping.
  23. The fern's fronds can be used in floral arrangements and as decorative foliage.
  24. In winter, protecting the crown with fleece or straw helps insulate it from frost.
  25. The fern is resilient to pests and diseases, though it may suffer from scale insects or mealybugs.
  26. In its native Australia, Indigenous peoples traditionally used the fibrous trunk for various practical purposes.
  27. It has a significant presence in botanical gardens and arboretums worldwide.
  28. The plant's spores are produced in structures called sporangia on the undersides of fronds.
  29. Spores are dispersed by wind, allowing the fern to propagate naturally over time.
  30. Dicksonia antarctica is an ancient species that dates back millions of years.
  31. It belongs to the family Dicksoniaceae, which includes other tree fern species.
  32. The fern's ability to thrive in shaded conditions makes it suitable for urban gardens and city parks.
  33. It has been successfully introduced to gardens and estates across the UK since the Victorian era.
  34. The fern's presence in gardens enhances biodiversity by providing habitat for insects and small animals.
  35. In Australia, it is found in temperate rainforests and moist gullies where conditions are consistently humid.
  36. The fern's adaptation to varying light levels allows it to grow under dense forest canopies and in open clearings.
  37. Its tolerance to fluctuating moisture levels makes it adaptable to seasonal changes in the UK.
  38. The fern's resilience to wind damage makes it suitable for exposed garden locations with moderate shelter.
  39. The plant's longevity and slow growth rate make it a valuable investment in garden landscaping.
  40. The Australian Tree Fern continues to inspire gardeners and nature enthusiasts with its prehistoric allure and enduring beauty in the UK's temperate climate.

These facts highlight the Australian Tree Fern's adaptability, aesthetic appeal, and ecological importance, making it a cherished addition to gardens and landscapes throughout the UK.