Tasmanian tree fern
Tree ferns are trendy, and of all tree ferns, Dicksonia antarctica is the best known. It’s gnarled but straight trunk and beautiful arched fronds has found it a place on many a balcony, terrace and garden. There’s something about it which makes it distinctive and stunning in any setting, yet it somehow fits in well with both indigenous and tropical planting. Gardeners appreciate the ease with which this plant can be maintained; of all tree ferns this is the hardiest; some care is needed in winter from around -5C and the growth point and trunk should be kept moist. Dicksonia antarctica comes from Australia and Tasmania, where it is abundant. It can grow to an impressive 15m in height (50 feet) and boasts luscious roughly textured green fronds of up to 6m (18 feet) in diameter. It looks stunning in a pot in a town garden or planted next to a pond in a country garden, where its arching panoply will give dappled shade. Try underplanting with other, indigenous ferns such as Osmunda or Dryopteris or even Ophiopogon for a dramatic depth of contrast! The trunk is reddish brown to dark brown in colour, consisting of decaying old fronds (which can be cut short at the end of the year), and becoming hairier at the base. Most of these plants have solitary trunks, but sometimes you can get a plant with offsets. The trunk may be cut down, kept moist and replanted, whereupon it will generate new roots. It can also host a range of epiphytic plants such as mosses and even other ferns. Dicksonia antartica can grow at a rate of 3.5 to 5 cm (1 ½ to 2 inches) per year. It will produce spores after about 20 years.
This plant grows naturally in damp woodland conditions and sometimes grows at high altitude. Such plants are particularly suited to our cooler, northern climate. It is not fussy and tolerates acidic and alkaline soils. Plant out or in pots with plenty of organic material and keep the trunk and crown of the plant moist; in dry periods a regular spraying is to be advised. In winter start protecting from -5C by placing gardeners fleece or rolled up newspaper in the crown of the plant as insulation. In cold periods the trunk may also be protected with for example, reed matting. The old fronds may be kept on the plant to provide extra protection until the new growth comes in spring.
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