The springtime miracle of the fuzzy tree fern | James Wong

The tree fern’s explosive growth rate epitomises renewal. Even dead, they can host new growth

For most people it’s tulips, magnolias, maybe even daffs. For me the most wonderful herald of spring is the tree fern. Yes, a weird favourite, I know. But the expectation – as tightly curled, fuzzy brown “orangutan fists” rapidly unfurl as the days get warmer – never fails to fill me with excitement. The sheer bright green freshness of the new foliage, the explosive growth rate of the croziers, the botanical architecture of it all, perfectly epitomises a season of growth and renewal. Yet, after a truly challenging winter, many might be looking at defoliated stumps of these pricey specimens with crushed spirits. If this is you right now, here’s my guide for what to do next.

First, don’t panic! The Tasmanian tree fern Dicksonia antarctica will suffer browning and loss of fronds during prolonged frosts, but as long as the growing point at the centre of their caudex (furry brown “trunk”) is intact, they may well sprout back to life as if nothing happened, especially on larger specimens. An easy way to test this is to put your hand in the centre of the crown and feel gently for the tightly closed fronds. If these are firm, you will almost certainly be fine. If this is a soggy, swishy mess, the news is less likely to be good. Be patient and wait until at least early June, however, as in my experience they may well surprise you.

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