Sphaeropteris cooperi

lacy tree fern


Sphaeropteris cooperi

(F.Muell.) R.M.Tryon 1970

pronounced: sfy-roh-OP-ter-iss KOO-per-eye

(Cyatheaceae — the scaly tree fern family)

synonym — Cyathea cooperi

(Hook ex F.Muell.) Domin. 1929

pronounced: sigh-ATH-ee-uh KOO-per-eye

common names: lacy tree fern, scaly tree fern, Cooper's tree fern

native 4Sphaeropteris is from two Greek words, σφαιρα (sphaira), a ball, and πτερις (pteris), a fern; Cyathea is from κυαθειον (kyatheion) , a little cup, referring to the structure that encloses the sorus; cooperi was named by Ferdinand von Mueller in honour of Sir Daniel Cooper (1821 – 1902), merchant and philanthropist.

This tree fern is an Australian native, occurring in coastal regions between Cooktown in North Queensland down as far as north-eastern NSW. It has naturalized in other parts of NSW, in south-eastern South Australia, Western Australia between Perth and Albany, and in Hawaii. It is found naturally in moist forests in sheltered coastal valleys, and in mountain gorges up to a height of 1400 m. In Hawaii it has become a problem as an aggressive invasive species in the rainforests on some of the islands. In Western Australia it has escaped cultivation and invaded native vegetation along streams and around swamps, and is regarded as a minor environmental weed. It has similarly become established in various areas around Sydney, for example in the Lane Cove National Park.

It is a medium to large fast-growing plant to 15 m tall, with a widely spread crown, and a trunk of up to 30 cm in diameter, although in its natural habitat the competition to get closer to the light results in a much more slender trunk of about 15 cm diameter. The stipes and the upper trunk are covered in very light brown scales, with brown teeth. The elegant and delicate arching fronds of the widely spread crown can reach over 4 m in length. The trunk often shows scars where spent fronds have detached from the trunk. These scars often form a beautiful diamond pattern.

The young plant photographed has been planted in a Picnic Bay garden. This is one of the most commonly cultivated of the tree ferns. Is not only used in gardens, but in public landscaping. It prefers protected, shady, moist conditions, but can be grown in partly sunny areas. It does not do well in full sun. In the garden, it can provide a microclimate for other ferns and moisture-loving plants.

Aboriginal peoples split the trunk and ate the starchy pith raw or roasted. In some regions the unopened fronds were roasted to remove the shikimic acid, and then eaten.


Photograph taken in Picnic Bay 2014, 2016
Page last updated 7th April 2019