Australian Tree Fern

Cyathea cooperi
(Sphaeropteris cooperi)

The gossamer Australian tree fern is one of the most unique trees for a shady spot, but in no way is it low maintenance.

Australian tree fern in a shady bed

This is a high moisture plant requiring a daily light shower to keep it healthy and beautiful...though it doesn't want its roots overwatered.

Like most ferns, it's an understory plant with lacy foliage that likes shade, dappled shade, or a little morning sunshine.

A tree fern needs lots of's a jumbo-sized fern that spreads as much as 15 feet wide - and eventually forms a tree trunk under its tropical canopy.

The trunk itself is made up of fuzzy rootlets that like to be hosed down often - every day if you can.

New growth emerges in a large fuzzy brown curl that unfurls to form a giant fern frond.

cascading over variegated ginger

Wear gloves and long sleeves when handling, since small hairs on the stalks and undersides of the leaves can cause skin irritations.

Avoid placing by a swimming pool where spores and tiny hairs can fall into the water and might irritate a swimmer's skin.

Plant specs

These trees are evergreen and do best in full to partial shade.

They're slow growers to about 15 feet tall by 8 feet or more wide.

A tree fern likes it warm and humid - Zone 10 is best, though in Zone 9B you can keep it in a container to move indoors during cold weather.

Plant care

Add organic peat moss (or top soil) to the hole when you plant.

You can also add in composted cow manure to enrich the soil around the tree's rootball.

No trimming is needed other than to remove old fronds.

In a cottage garden landscape

As the plant matures a trunk will emerge after bottom branches have been removed. These trees look best if you let this happen gradually rather than cutting off a lot of lower branches.

Water on a regular basis but don't keep the ground overly wet. Lightly hose down the trunk and foliage every day (or as often as possible) if there's been no rain.

Fertilize 3 times a year - in spring, summer, and autumn - with a top quality granular fertilizer.

leaf detail on young plants

Plant spacing

When planting several, place these trees about 6 feet apart.

Allow plenty of room between an Australian tree fern and the nearest large shrub - 3 or 4 feet or more.

Low plants that will grow under the canopy can go about 3 feet from the trunk.

These trees can do very well in containers as long as you get the hang of "even moisture."

Landscape uses for Australian tree fern

  • shade garden anchor plant
  • single specimen
  • by a shaded pond
  • accent in a mixed bed

A.K.A. (also known as): Australian Fern Tree


COMPANION PLANT SUGGESTIONS: Variegated ginger, peace lily, pentas, angel's trumpet, Aztec grass, pinwheel jasmine, elephant ears, caladium, and cordyline and dracaena.

Other trees you might like: Dwarf Black Olive, Fiddle Leaf Fig

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