Cyathea smithii (Soft Tree Fern)
Scientific name: Cyathea smithii
Common names: Soft Tree Fern , Katote, Smiths Tree Fern:
A smaller slow growing tree fern growing up to 8m tall growing throughout New Zealand and is half the size of mamaku.
Its presence on the Auckland Islands marks the most southern most limit for tree ferns in the world.
The trunk is covered in chestnut coloured scales. It produces masses of very soft and delicate looking fronds which spread horizontally from the crown and reach 2 – 2.5m in length. The fronds rather than uncurling in the manner of most tree ferns, in which the main frond stalk unrolls almost to its full length before the "frondlets" (pinnae) unroll, the fronds tend to expand all at once up the length of the frond.
The stipes have dark scales and a yellow midrib. A stipe is the part of the stalk between the lamina and rhizome. The rhizome is the stem of the plant.
In its native habitat the fronds often leave a skirt around the slender, fibrous trunk after they have died,This is thought to stop epiphutes and vines establishing themselves on the trunk. It still allows other ferns and epiphytes to grow on the lower parts of the trunk. These also help to protect it from pests and maintain some humidity. This skirt is very characteristic of this species and makes it easy to identify among other New Zealand species of tree fern. The only other tree fern that regularly forms a skirt is Dicksonia fibrosa..
In the past Cyathea smithii was a food of South Island Maori tribes. They use to eat the cooked heart of this fern
but the Cyathea medullaris was the more favourite fern for eating.
A young Cyathea smithii photographed NW Nelson, West Coast.
A mature Cyathea smithii photographed in Pukekura Park New Plymouth. Notice the distinctive skirt of dried stalks that appear on mature trees.
A stand of Cyathea smithii in lowland North Taranaki bush.
Westcoast, South Island