The silver fern

IMG_3735IMG_3738 - CopyAll New Zealanders know the silver fern, but usually as the logo or motif, not the real thing. Sure it is closely associated with our national rugby and netball teams, but how many realise it is a ponga? A native tree fern.

Botanically it is Cyathea dealbata. New Zealand doesn’t have a world monopoly on tree ferns but we do have some special ones which are native only to our lands and the silver fern is one. It has a wide distribution through the North Island and in the north and east of the South Island. We have it seeding down in our garden in that wonderfully casual way that pongas do. It can reach as high as 10 metres but it takes a while to get there, at which point it may also measure a huge 8 metres across.

It is only silver – or white, really – on the underside of the leaf and it takes about two years for that white colouring to develop. Maori were reputed to use the white undersides to mark tracks for travelling at night although they also stand out during the day and bush walkers often know this trick.

It was TV gardening host and now National Government minister, Maggie Barry, who presented a little piece many years ago on the silver fern which falls into the “once seen, never forgotten” category. Surrounding herself with a circle of cut fronds placed pale side up, she advised us that if you are ever lost in the wild then using this technique makes you easy to spot from the air. So there you have it – a survival strategy from Maggie.

Maggie Barry's tip, my gardening shoes

Maggie Barry’s tip, my gardening shoes

7 thoughts on “The silver fern

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      It is a lovely image but I am not sure that a marketing symbol is suited to a country’s flag. And the silver fern has been well and truly claimed by the marketers.

      1. William

        I agree, and I feel in it’s fully developed stage as a mature frond it’s too complicated for a flag, but a stylised unfurling frond represented by a curve could work, simple is essential.
        Good luck on choosing a new flag, it’s going to be interesting to see which one it is!

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        Ah, that stylized curve of an unfurling frond is what we refer to as the koru. Remains to be seen if the country will be won over by this new flag business – started not from public demand for a change but from a pet project of the current prime minister.

      3. William

        Ah right, the koru!
        No red magnolia on any of the new flag designs?
        There was an opportunity for you and Mark to become a national symbol! ;)

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