June 22, 2017

It’s a Ponga

Plants from Middle Earth

Garden Maine’s New Zealand Extravaganza – Celebrating a Completely Unexpected Journey

Anna Paton Photo | Cyathea dealbata - silver tree fern or ponga

Anna Paton Photo | Cyathea dealbata – silver tree fern or ponga

Anna Paton Photo | Fronds of Cyathea dealbata - silver tree fern or ponga

Anna Paton Photo | Fronds of Cyathea dealbata – silver tree fern or ponga

It’s a fern, it’s a tree, it’s the silver tree fern. This medium-sized tree fern, Cyathea dealbata, is found on the North Island of New Zealand and down into parts of the South Island. It is endemic to New Zealand (see below for more on that). The fern grows in forested areas that rarely go below freezing. How to identify it if you are looking at a tree fern: “The fern is relatively easy to pick out in dense forest, firstly look up! If the undersides of the fronds are silver and you are in New Zealand, it’s Cyathea dealbata.” That cheeky advice comes from Forest Ferns, The Encyclopedia of Tree Ferns. According to Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand,

Anna Paton Photo | Fronds of Cyathea dealbata - silver tree fern or ponga, with a view at Auckland Botanic Gardens, New Zealand

Anna Paton Photo | Fronds of Cyathea dealbata – silver tree fern or ponga, with a view at Auckland Botanic Gardens, New Zealand

“New Zealand does not have an official national flower, but the silver fern, which appears on army insignia and sporting team uniforms, is an unofficial national emblem.”

As for the plant itself, it can reach heights of more than 30 feet in the forest, with a spread of more than 24 feet. The silvery underside of the fronds don’t develop until the plant is 3 or 4 years old. The fronds themselves can grow more than 12 feet in length. Cyathea dealbata is a member of the Cyatheaceae or scaly tree fern family, which counts among its number ancient plants found in fossil records.

In the Maori language, silver tree fern is called ponga or kaponga.

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Photographs kindly provided by Anna Paton of Auckland, New Zealand, at Auckland Botanic Gardens in November 2012. For a brief interview with Anna, click to read here.

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“New Zealand’s flora is described as being unique due to our long isolation many thousands of years ago. We have some 2,357 different plant species and approximately 80% of them are endemic, meaning they don’t occur anywhere else in the world.”

– From the Auckland Botanic Gardens website

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How did all this come about? You can read about how Janine Pineo of Garden Maine found Anna Paton, more than 9,000 miles away, as the crow flies. If a crow could fly 9,000 miles like that. Click here for that story.