Dicksonia antarctica the much loved and most often planted tree fern in the British Isles is without doubt one of the most impressive ferns available to gardeners here with spectacular large evergreen fronds up to 3 metres long held on a stout fibrous trunk. Often known as the Tasmanian Tree Fern it is naturally found growing from South Eastern Australia through to Tasmania.
For us gardeners here, the tolerance of this tree fern to cope with being ‘harvested’ whilst being a semi-mature, even elderly specimens, is remarkable. It’s thought that the original specimens to arrive in the British Isles arrived as ballast on the hulls or merchant ships and were discarded in parts of the West Country such as Falmouth where they were seen to sprout new fronds. Fortunately this was spotted by enterprising gardeners and the trunks were rescued, subsequently planted and now flourish in many of the great Cornish gardens often naturally by spores, producing genuine home-grown tree ferns.
Ideally suited to shady, sheltered locations and high rainfall and generally hardy to -5°, Dicksonia Antarctica is relatively easy to grow. For many of us here it is likely that we will experience colder and dryer conditions than is really suitable but fortunately it is possible to protect both the trunk, leaves and crown with straw or similar in the worst of the weather. I would also consider adding extra irrigation by fixing a simple dripper or sprinkler to the crown or uppermost parts of the trunk to help your Dicksonia grow well. There has been much discussion about feeding, some say it’s not necessary but personally I like to help newly establishing plants along with dilute liquid feeds of seaweed extract. I also ‘treat’ my established ferns to a teaspoon of slow-release fertilizer each spring, directly added to the crown before the new seasons fronds emerge.
Like all ferns, good soil preparation is essential too. In the wild, Dicksonia grow in fertile humus rich soil so I recommend adding good compost or well-rotted farmyard manure to your soil before planting. I guess I should point out that years ago when Dicksonia were first imported, some unscrupulous sources claimed that they didn’t have roots and wouldn’t regrow any either saying that the trunk itself was enough to sustain growth. This simply isn’t true, even large 2 meter ferns will readily regrow a new root system, it’s just a ‘lucky for us’ quirk of nature that Dicksonia tolerate having their in the ground root system cut off allowing them to be harvested and sold to the nursery trade.
It’s also important to know that Dicksonia antarctica harvesting is heavily regulated and that most tree ferns exported these days come as a by-product of softwood forestry plantations where they form an amazing understorey much like bracken grows wild here.
**To avoid confusion – Please note measurements are the height of the trunk not including leaves**
- Eventual Size:Up to 4 metres.
- Position:Full shade, Partial shade.
- Foliage:Evergreen (can be deciduous in colder areas).
- Soil:Moist but well-drained.
- Hardiness Rating:H3 - Hardy in coastal and relatively mild parts of the UK (-5 to 1).
- Other common names:soft tree fern, Australian tree fern, Tasmanian tree fern, woolly tree fern