I came across these distinctive ferns on a walk in Tongariro National Park in July 2019 – I’ve probably seen them before, but not in this quantity.
There are a number of short walks around Whakapapa Village; a beautiful part of the country to explore. I highly recommend this walk to the Taranaki Falls (a short video and some other pics from that walk). Lord of the Rings film locations dotted around the area.
I also spotted some young Umbrella ferns in the Oparara Basin, Karamea on the West Coast of NZ late 2019 – see third image below.
About the Umbrella Fern
Once you’ve pinned a name on this fern – not always an easy task – there’s quite bit of good information online (along with some inaccurate information). I’ve compiled a short list of sources and handy books below.
It’s reasonable easy to distinguish from other ferns due to a combination of several characteristics. The fronds have a distinctive – some might say ‘umbrella like’ curve and divide 3-4 times (as can be seen in the images above). The fern also rises in tiers (not clear in the images above).
The Maori names for this fern make reference to the likeness of the fronds to a bird’s footprint; Waekura: parrot’s footprint (Wae-kura) or Tapuwae kōtuku: ‘footprint of a white heron’.1
Species: Sticherus cunninghamii – Nomenclature/Etymology
According to nzpcn.org.nz, ‘Sticherus’ means ‘in rows’ and is derived from the Greek sticheres – and refers to the arrangement of the spore clusters.2 It’s unclear whether Sticherus is a custom made ‘latin’ botanical term (like cunninghamii) or an actual latin word. I wasn’t able to track it down in any Latin dictionaries, but it may be there. Until further evidence emerges I’m going with the former idea.
Named in honour of Allan Cunningham (1791-1839), an English botanist, explorer and plant collector for Kew, known for his travels to Australia (New South Wales) and New Zealand. Author of Florae Insularum Novae Zelandiae Precursor, 1837-40 (Introduction to the flora of New Zealand).3
Umbrella fern, Rarauheriki, Tapuwae kōtuku, Waekura.
For in-depth nomenclature & etymology see https://www.nzflora.info/factsheet/Taxon/Sticherus-cunninghamii.html
Habitat of the Umbrella Fern
A couple of sources suggest these ferns prefer dry conditions and one, higher altitudes. The ferns photographed above were both in reasonably moist environments, one sub-alpine forest, other other pretty close to sea level.
The Oparara Basin on the northern West Coast was around 200m and average annual rain fall figures I found for Karamea area, where the Oparara Basin is located, varied from 1500mm to 2000mm. Probably most reliable was 1981-2010 average from NIWA of 1868mm. So significantly less than further south on the West Coast, but certainly not dry.
This summary from nzflora.info sums up the broader habitat: ‘Sticherus cunninghamii occurs in all major forest types, as well as in scrub. It extends rarely to subalpine grassland. It grows in the open or in shade, and while often found in drier sites like ridges and banks, it can also occur on wet ground.’4
Sources & further reading
- Brief intro to NZ ferns by DOC https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-plants/ferns/
- Auckland University School of Biological Sciences https://www.nzplants.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/ferns/native-ferns/gleicheniaceae-tangle-umbrella-ferns/sticherus-cunninghamii.html
- nzflora.info (in-depth, somewhat technical, some great Umbrella fern detail photos) https://www.nzflora.info/factsheet/Taxon/Sticherus-cunninghamii.html
- New Zealand Plant Conservation Network https://www.nzpcn.org.nz/flora_details.aspx?ID=1310
- Landcare Research on Maori use of Sticherus cunninghamii https://maoriplantuse.landcareresearch.co.nz/WebForms/PeoplePlantsDetails.aspx…
- Wikipedia on Gleicheniaceae family https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gleicheniaceae
- Phil Bendle Collection on Sticherus cunninghamii (some good images, some incorrect info on distribution/habitat as at Jan 2020) https://www.citscihub.nz/Phil_Bendle_Collection:Umbrella_fern_(Sticherus_cunninghamii)
- Wikipedia on Sticherus cunninghamii (not esp. useful at Jan 2020) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sticherus_cunninghamii
- Wikipedia on the Sticherus genus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sticherus
- Doc on the Oparara Basin https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/nelson-tasman/places/kahurangi-national-park/oparara-basin/
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- Crowe, Andrew, Which Native Fern? Penguin Books (2009), p53.
- https://www.nzpcn.org.nz/flora_details.aspx?ID=1310 Retrieved January 30, 2020.
- https://www.nzflora.info/factsheet/Taxon/Sticherus-cunninghamii.html and https://www.nzpcn.org.nz/flora_details.aspx?ID=1310 Retrieved January 30, 2020.
- https://www.nzflora.info/factsheet/Taxon/Sticherus-cunninghamii.html Retrieved January 30, 2020.