Garden Talk

with Rebecca Jordi

Q: Please identify this palm for me.

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Australian Fern

Australian Fern

A:   Thank you so much for sending me a photo, which helped me narrow the field.  I believe your palm is actually an Australian fern tree, Sphaeropteris cooperi. It was introduced to the United States from Australia. The Australian tree fern is a tropical, single-trunked, giant fern. It has long, bi-pinnately compound, lacy leaves with a fine texture. The 1 to 1.5 foot long leaves form a handsome canopy and impart a tropical effect. The fern produces one trunk with a woolly appearance, and the trunk may grow to a diameter of 1 foot. This plant reproduces by spores found on the undersides of mature leaves – typical of many ferns. These spores cause problems for Hawaii’s native flora as it reproduces quickly and overtakes the native plants.  The fern tree, also called Coopers Cyathea, is considered invasive in Hawaii. It grows in cold hardiness zones 10a – 11, which is South Florida for us.  This means the tree fern really should be located in a patio or screened area here in Northeast Florida.  Consider keeping it protected if we get temperatures below freezing.  It grows at a slow rate and reaches heights upward to 18 feet with a potential 15 foot spread.  Australian fern tree prefers shady sites and will show browning on the fronds if it receives direct sunlight, especially intense afternoon sun.  It prefers sandy, moist, well-drained soils.  This plant is not salt tolerant, therefore it should not be planted along the coastline.  For more complete information please look over the University of Florida publication:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fp557

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