Hawaii’s exotic plants provide a natural umbrella as they collect the morning mist. On my walk across campus today, I could see light rain falling in the sunlight of a clearing ahead, however I was dry – protected by leaves from trees and very large plants.

One of the most interesting “trees” in Hawaii is really an enormous fern – the Australian Tree Fern (Cyathea australis). Its trunk can grow from 20-40 feet tall in the rain forests that are its preferred habitat. On campus, most are smaller than that but still taller than I am. From the trunk, huge light green fronds arch out, providing a cover for plants or humans below. They look lacy and delicate but have firm enough stems that they don’t sag even in heavy rain and wind.

New leaves unroll from tiny pods on the top of the trees. I found a short fern that allowed me to get a close look at the emerging leaves. It’s fun to watch them unfurl over time.

As you might guess from the name, this fern is from Australia. Many people like them as landscaping because they are so beautifully exotic, but the ferns are not very happy outside warm, moist climates. They also don’t like direct sunlight – they usually grow beneath taller trees that provide shade in rain forests or tropical jungles.

These types of plants are part of what give Hawaii its exotic appearance. When I see tree ferns like this and banyan trees in a movie or television show, I check the shooting locations to see if Hawaii is listed (and it usually is). The large lawn where the Hawaii Five-O blessing was held last week is ringed by this fern.

When I pass below these tree ferns, I remember the tiny plants I used to fertilize and mist to encourage to grow. They seem like tiny potted replicas of what a fern is in its natural environment — where it is large enough to take care of me.


  1. these are really beautiful. we have them in our yard. they grow fast even in the bay area. they seem like Carboniferous Eral plants to me.

  2. This article made me peer out my window and try to discern just what’s in my yard. Lychee tree, Ohia, Gardenia, Red Ginger, T-leaf T-leaf T-leaf T-leaf (yes loads everywhere), Coconut, Mango, Palms, Bamboo, you know I lost track and this is just the beginning. I think I’d need to explore for an entire week cataloging just what’s in my yard, lol. Who knows, maybe I’ll find some Australian Tree Ferns (Cyathea australis).

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