Australian Tree Fern

A tree fern stretches overhead shoppers in greenhouse nursery
A tree fern stretches overhead shoppers in greenhouse nursery

Also known in its native country as the lacy tree fern because of its delicate fronds, the Australian tree fern is a tropical giant whose trunk can reach a height of 15 or even 30 feet. The long, large leaves form a handsome canopy and give a tropical feel to the landscape.

This plant is just begging to be an eye-catching specimen plant in your landscape. Great for shaded gardens in South and Central Florida or well-protected areas farther north, Australian tree fern truly shines. For a tropical oasis look, plant by a pool or small pond where the interesting canopy can be reflected beautifully in the water.


Australian tree fern (Sphaeropteris cooperi) has a single trunk that can reach between 15 and 30 feet tall. The trunk has a brown, hairy appearance and grows up to a foot in diameter. As old fronds fall off, distinctive coin-shaped spots will form on the trunk. Like all ferns, these plants reproduce by spores which are found on the undersides of the mature leaves. In South and Central Florida these ferns are evergreen.

Large green fern outside a shady corner of a building
An Australian tree fern growing outside a building on the UF campus.

Planting and Care

Australian tree fern grows best in areas with high humidity and very warm temperatures. In South and Central Florida, Australian tree fern can be grown outside; farther north it should be grown in an area where it is protected from the cold. A note about this fern: the soft fronds have hair-like structures that will cling to your clothes and skin if you contact them. These can be quite itchy, so keep this in mind as you work around your tree fern.

Australian tree fern needs an area that is shaded and has well-drained soil. As with all ferns, this plant performs best when it is kept moist. Other than an occasional irrigation during dry times and the removal of spent, lower fronds, Australian tree fern should be regarded as a low-maintenance plant worth a place in Florida landscapes.

UF/IFAS Publications

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A Note on Names

You may notice some of the links refer to Australian tree fern by different botanical names. Botanists do not seem to be fully in agreement on this. The Atlas of Florida Plants accepts Sphaeropteris cooperi (and treats Cyathea cooperi as a synonym); we generally try to follow the Atlas, since this is the most comprehensive and accessible source on plants that are native or naturalized in Florida.