Unlike their ground-hugging types of cousins, tree ferns can grow up to 60 feet tall. The majority of the species are native to the rainforests of Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand. The rare Florida tree fern (Ctenitis sloanei) is the only tree fern that’s indigenous to the continental U.S. With frilly, spreading fronds, tree ferns look like fancy palm trees.
Though most of Florida is flat, there are small rises, known as hammocks, which provide suitable growing conditions for the Florida tree fern. Scattered groups of the ferns can still be found growing naturally in Manatee and Polk counties. Also known as the red-hair comb fern due to the reddish-brownish spores on the underside of the leaves, the plant grows up to 6 feet tall and prefers light shade and consistently moist soil.
Native to Australia and Tasmania, the soft tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica) can grow up to 18 feet tall, with a spread of up to 12 feet. It’s winter hardy in USDA zones 9 and 10 and prefers moist soil and partial shade. The fern’s trunk is nearly black, and its rough-textured fronds appear fuzzy from a distance.
Often used in tropical landscapes to create a soft-textured effect, the Hawaiian tree fern (Cibotium glaucum) can best be grown in well-drained, slightly acidic soils and partial shade. Once widespread in all of the Hawaiian islands, the fern is now threatened by over-harvesting and competition from non-native plants. Healthy populations of the exotic, 20-foot ferns are scattered throughout Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The leaves of a mature silver tree fern (Cyathea dealbata) have silver undersides. The fern grows up to 30 feet tall with fronds that are up to 13 feet long. Also known as the ponga, the plant is hardy in zones 9 and 10, and it prefers partial shade. It thrives in well-drained humus and can tolerate drier conditions than most tree ferns. Silver fern leaves appear on the official coat of arms of New Zealand.
Dwarfing other tree ferns, the mamaku (Cyathea medullaris) of New Zealand can reach heights of up to 60 feet. Also known as the black tree fern due to its thick, black trunk, the tree produces immature fronds that appear to be covered in thick, dark hair. As the fronds mature, they become dark green and shiny on top. The tree can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 9 and 10, and it prefers light shade and consistently moist soil.