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
A: I am so glad you brought in a photo of the fern as this made it very easy for me to identify the fern as Resurrection fern, Pleopeltis polypodioides. This plant is native to Florida and found in moist areas and sometimes on the trunks of trees. Resurrection fern is classified as an epiphyte, similar to Spanish moss and “air” plants. It uses the trunk of the tree as a place of attachment but does not derive any of its nutrients from the tree but instead takes moisture and nutrients from the outer surface of the bark. Because it does not form true roots it must live in areas where the air is continually moist. The name resurrection comes from the plant appearing to be dead and dried up but once the rains come and moisture returns the plant suddenly comes back to life. Resurrection fern is not a parasite and it will not kill the tree. Having Resurrection fern on the trunk of the tree does not indicate the tree is dying or in decline. However, it does indicate the area is moist and conditions are perfect for the fern to thrive.