Plant Profiles Australian Native Ferns

Australian native ferns are widely grown as garden or container plants. Some are suitable for indoor display, at least until they grow too large. There are about 400 species of fern native to Australia. In general they do best in shady, moist situations. However some will thrive in full sun and under drier conditions. 

Adiantum aethiopicum or Common Maidenhair Fern is found in all states and is very well known. It has branched fronds and many small, rounded segments. It is widely cultivated and suitable for gardens or containers. Many problems arising with maidenhair ferns are the result of over-watering.

Asplenium bulbiferum or Mother Spleenwort occurs in all states bar Western Australia. It has large, upright or semi-weeping fronds which grow to 1.2m long. It is popular in gardens or containers and also grows well in hanging baskets.

The genus Blechnum includes water-ferns and there are a number of types suitable for home gardens. Blechnum fluviatile or Ray Water-fern is a prostrate fern with spreading fronds up to 50cm long. The fronds radiate in a wheel-like formation. It is quick growing and likes a shaded position and moist conditions. It encourages birds to a garden.

Blechnum nudum or Fishbone water-fern can, after many years, develop a trunk to around 1 metre tall. The fronds are fishbone-like. It prefers moist, sheltered positions.

Blechnum wattsii or Hard water-fern has dark green, deeply divided leathery fronds with broad serrated segments. New growth is shiny and often reddish. It is impervious to frosts.

Dicksonia artarctica or Soft Tree-fern has fronds to around 4.5m long produced at top of a tall but slow-growing trunk. The bases of the fronds are covered by soft brown hairs.  It is widely grown in cultivation, but requires regular watering during hot weather. It can be transplanted by sawing through the trunk.

Doodia aspera or Prickly Rasp-Fern has erect, often pale green, fishbone-shaped fronds. New growth is usually bright pink to reddish. It is a very hardy fern, suited to a wide range of situations.

Nephrolepis cordifolia is also called the Fish-bone Fern and is another that is commonly cultivated. Fronds grow to 1m long. It spreads by creeping rhizomes to create a dense clump. It is a hardy species adaptable to a wide range of conditions. It tolerates full sun provided the root system is kept moist.

The hardy Playcerium bifurcatum or Elkhorn is a clump-forming epiphyte with large, irregular fronds. It is the most common elkhorn fern in Australia and is widely cultivated. It is generally attached to slabs, trees or tree-fern trunks.

Todea Barbara is also known as the King Fern. It is a large fern but slow to reach full size. It has a short, broad trunk from which multiple heads of fronds to 2m long can develop. The fronds are leathery, divided and bright shiny green.

Ferns are the ideal choice for planting on the south side of houses where they are in constant shade. This is often a place where it is difficult to grow flowering plants so Australian ferns can fill the gap nicely.