New Zealanders need no introduction to ferns. From giant tree ferns to tiny maidenhair ferns wetter parts of the country abound with numerous species of fern. Ferns may be used in various ways to supplement palm trees when landscaping but look best in rainforest gardens. Certainly anyone who’s seen the giant Black Tree Fern, Cyathea medullaris, growing in wet Northland gullies will appreciate just how tropical these wonderful native plants can look.
Do be aware that the rough fronds of tree ferns should be kept clear of more delicate palm fronds as they’ll quickly ruin them in windy conditions.
There are a number of tree ferns that are native to or do well in New Zealand gardens. Some of our favourites include:
Cyathea medullaris, the Black Tree Fern. Undoubtedly the most tropical looking of New Zealand’s tree ferns this giant can reach 20m tall in ideal conditions with fronds up to 5m long.
Dicksonia squarrosa, the Brown Tree Fern. This is a smaller and hardier plant that is perhaps the ‘typical’ tree fern of New Zealand forests. Perfect for planting in sheltered locations.
Dicksonia antarctica, the Australian Tree Fern. A large and very hardy tree fern from south-eastern Australia this plant thrives in gardens throughout southern England. Different looking from native tree ferns these plants are well worth incorporating into a rainforest garden.
Whilst tree ferns provide structure to a garden one should not ignore smaller ferns as groundcover or even epiphytes. Some particularly attractive smaller species include:
Leptolepia novae-zealandiae, the gorgeous Lace Fern which can fill a spot around one metre or so in diameter.
Matteuccia struthiopteris, the hardy Ostrich Fern, which grows shuttle-cock like to around 1.5m or more.
Nephrolepis exaltata, the familiar Boston Fern, perfect for quickly filling in space around other plants.
Asplenium bulbiferum, the Hen and Chicken Fern. This lovely native fern produces offspring via its leaves. Lush and shiny green it’s perfect for the rainforest garden.
Asplenium nidus, the Birds Nest Fern, is a wonderful epiphyte with large (over one metre long), simple fronds more like a banana than a fern. This fern epitomises tropical splendour.
We finish with a special fern, the King Fern, Ptisana salicina. This trunk-less fern produces fronds 4m or more in length and 2m wide on stalks up to 3m long. An endangered native this fern should be grown more often.
See Garden Designs using Palms, Cycads and Subtropical Plants for more suggestions about combing palms with ferns.