A difficult area where nothing would do well..... Marattia salicina, King fern

As a nurseryman, propagating plants can sometimes be very disappointing. You often try your best to grow a particular plant,experimenting with different methods and areas of the nursery, and yet you still struggle. Then you see the person that you sold, or in this case gave these plants, grow them superbly and seemingly with little ease.

The plants I am referring to are my mother's King Ferns. Anyone who knows my mum and has visited her property will know what I am talking about; you can hardly miss them as you walk down the path to her front door. When Mum is away, watering them is the one thing, and perhaps the only thing to do. Nothing else really matters; you could just about let her house burn down, but you must not forget to water her much loved king ferns.

Anyone who knows my mum and has visited her property will know what I am talking about; you can hardly miss them

Guy Bowden

There about sixty species of this tropical and subtropical fern with the single New Zealand species also found in Queensland.

Known by the common names King Fern, Horseshoes Fern, and "Para" Marattia salicina, this fern is New Zealand's largest herbaceous fern and quite unmistakable. From a tuberous rootstock, several (sometimes 6-10), wide spreading, dark shining, green fronds arise up to 5m or more.

King fern growing in a shade house at Tawapou Coastal Natives.

While it can be grown in the open the best results are when it is planted in rich soil in a sheltered shady position. Or,as in my mother's case, in large pots or tubs used in a difficult place where nothing else would grow.

Maori cultivated this fern and the large starchy rootstock was eaten. It is now reasonably uncommon and considered one of our endangered plants. Habit loss, pigs, goats and domestic farm animals have almost exterminated it in most areas. I have been fortunate enough to see it growing in the wild in two areas, along the coast just north of Sandy bay and at Mimiwhangata. In both of these areas it is growing in deep and moist south facing gulleys, in heavy shade. Unfortunately it is slowly being eliminated by browsing animals, and you can clearly see dead remnant stumps of plants, where once many ferns covered a much larger area.