What is Dicksonia?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Dicksonia is a genus of tree ferns with about 25 species native to parts of Central America and Oceania, as well as the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is a very old genus, believed to date back at least to the Certaceous period of 65 million years ago. The genus exhibits its greatest diversity on the island of New Guinea, which has five Dicksonia species.

The St. Helena tree fern, which is also known as dicksonia arborescens, only grows on the island of St. Helena.
The St. Helena tree fern, which is also known as dicksonia arborescens, only grows on the island of St. Helena.

Commonly called the soft tree fern or Tasmanian tree fern, Dicksonia antarctica is native to parts of Australia and is the most easily cultivated Dicksonia species. It can be reproduced from spores or cuttings, and is grown ornamentally as a house or garden plant, or for use in landscaping. D. antarctica can grow as tall as 50 feet (15 meters), but is usually only about a third that size.

The soft tree fern grows best in organic soil, in areas with abundant rainfall and mild temperatures. It is tolerant of fire. The starchy pith on the inside of the trunk can be eaten, either raw or cooked.

The New Zealand tree fern, or Dicksonia squarrosa, is, as the name suggests, native to New Zealand, though it is also cultivated as a garden plant beyond its native range. The New Zealand tree fern can reach 20 feet (6 meters) in height. It is a hardy and fast growing plant. It tolerates wind and sun fairly well, but will do best with some protection against the elements. The fronds are dry to the touch and grow at the top of the plant, giving the New Zealand tree fern a palm tree like appearance.

The bristly tree fern, Dicksonia youngiae, is native to rain forests of Australia. It is one of the least hardy members of the genus, vulnerable to both heat and wind. The bristly tree fern grows to be 14 feet (4 meters) in height, and features multiple trunks. Its fronds are a rich green, and its fiddleheads, the uncurled fronds, are covered in coarse red hairs.

Dicksonia arborescens, or the St. Helena tree fern, grows only on the island of St. Helena and is of vulnerable conservation status. It is also important to many other threatened endemic species, which rely on the tree fern for shelter and a place for seedlings to grow. The young plants germinate or sprout on the trunk of the St. Helena tree fern.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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