tree fern

tree fern
any of various ferns, mostly tropical and chiefly of the family Cyatheaceae, that attain the size of trees, sending up a straight trunklike stem with foliage at the summit.

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Any of various ferns (especially those of the families Cyatheaceae and Marattiaceae) of treelike habit with a woody stem.

Many attain heights over 50 ft (15.2 m). They are natives of humid mountain forests in the tropics and subtropics and of warm temperate regions of the Southern Hemisphere. The family Marattiaceae contains six genera; one species, Angiopteris evecta, has leaves (fronds) 15 ft (4.5 m) or more in length and stems of 2–6 ft (60–180 cm). Now-extinct members of the family date to the Carboniferous Period (354–290 million years ago). Members of the family Cyatheaceae are very large, terrestrial ferns with trunklike, upright rhizomes; the nearly 1,000 species are grouped into seven genera.

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      any of a group of relatively primitive ferns (fern) in the order Cyatheales, most of them characterized by ascending trunklike stems and an arborescent (treelike) habit. Tree ferns are conspicuous plants of humid tropical forests around the world. Species found at lower elevations are often widespread colonizers of disturbed or successional habitats. A large number of species are restricted to very small ranges on islands or at higher elevations, often in more-mature forests on isolated tropical mountaintops.

      Tree ferns are primarily members of the families Cyatheaceae (five genera) and Dicksoniaceae (three genera) in the division Polypodiophyta. Hypotheses on the classification of tree ferns have evolved as new species and new information on the relationships between genera have been discovered. In addition to the two main families given above, the tree ferns include a few small peripheral relatives: Metaxyaceae, Cibotiaceae, Loxomataceae, Culcitaceae, Plagiogyriaceae, and Thyrsopteridaceae. The most obvious morphological difference between the two larger families is in their leaves. Instead of scales, Dicksoniaceae leaves are covered by various types of hairs, which are especially conspicuous on the petioles. In contrast, Cyatheaceae has scales (and often also sharp spines), especially on the petioles, although hairs also may be present on the leaves.

      Instead of the bark and wood that characterize the trunks of seed plant trees, the trunks of tree ferns are composed of rhizomes (rhizome) modified to grow vertically and embedded in a dense mantle of adventitious roots. These trunks may reach heights of 25 metres (80 feet) or more in some species. The growing tip produces a cluster of often highly divided leaves that may reach several metres in length. The sori (fern) often have a membranous protective covering (indusium (fern)), which can take various forms, including umbrella-shaped, kidney-shaped, and globose. The spores are globose and trilete.

      A number of tree ferns have become quite rare as a result of overcollection by humans. The root mantle on the trunk has been a commercial source of “orchid bark,” a fibrous nonrotting substrate for cultivating orchids and other epiphytic (epiphyte) plants. The trunks have been carved into tiki statues and other craft items typically sold to tourists in tropical resorts. The trunk cross sections also produce a beautiful pattern of light and dark tissues originating from the vascular system of the stem and the leaf traces. These have been used for making various handcrafted items, including plates. Finally, a number of species have been collected from the wild for cultivation in greenhouses and conservatories. Governments have responded to these conservation threats by listing most tree ferns under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits international commerce involving these plants without a special permit.

      Tree ferns have a lengthy fossil record stretching back to the Triassic Period (251 to 199.6 million years ago). Members of both Cyatheaceae and Dicksoniaceae appear to have been diverse and relatively common during the succeeding Jurassic Period (199.6 to 145.5 million years ago) and Cretaceous Period (145.5 to 65.5 million years ago). However, the modern genera only become evident during the early Tertiary Period (65.5 to 2.6 million years ago). Thus, the tree ferns apparently were affected by the mass extinction (Cretaceous Period) event recorded across nearly all groups of organisms at the close of the Cretaceous Period, which opened ecological niches for another period of diversification.

George Yatskievych

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Universalium. 2010.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Tree fern — Tree Tree (tr[=e]), n. [OE. tree, tre, treo, AS. tre[ o], tre[ o]w, tree, wood; akin to OFries. tr[=e], OS. treo, trio, Icel. tr[=e], Dan. tr[ae], Sw. tr[ a], tr[ a]d, Goth. triu, Russ. drevo, W. derw an oak, Ir. darag, darog, Gr. dry^s a tree,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • tree fern — ► NOUN ▪ a large palm like fern with a trunk like stem …   English terms dictionary

  • tree fern — tree′ fern n. pln any of various mostly tropical ferns, chiefly of the family Cyatheaceae, that attain the size of trees • Etymology: 1840–50 …   From formal English to slang

  • tree fern — n. any of various tropical, treelike ferns (esp. genera Cyathea, Alsophila, and Hemitelia) with an elongated, woody trunk bearing fronds at the top …   English World dictionary

  • tree fern — noun any of numerous usually tropical ferns having a thick woody stem or caudex and a crown of large fronds; found especially in Australia and New Zealand; chiefly of the families Cyatheaceae and Marattiaceae but some from Polypodiaceae •… …   Useful english dictionary

  • tree fern — /ˈtri fɜn/ (say tree fern) noun any fern, as of the family Cyatheaceae, which attains the size of a tree, sending up a straight trunk like stem with foliage at the summit. Also, Chiefly Tasmania, man fern …  

  • tree fern — noun a large palm like fern with a trunk like stem. [Cyathea, Dicksonia, and other genera.] …   English new terms dictionary

  • tree fern — noun (C) a large tropical fern …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • tree fern —   See fern …   English-Hawaiian dictionary

  • tree fern — noun Date: 1830 any of various ferns (especially families Cyatheaceae and Dicksoniaceae) of arborescent habit with a woody stem …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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