Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Byfield Fern (isn't a fern)

Although it may not look like any of the others I’ve featured before; there is a cycad in the picture below. The living cycads are divided into 3 groups. Two of these are widespread and have featured on the blog before; the Cycadaceae which contains only the genus Cycas with its 100-odd species and the Zamiacaea which contains the Zamia, Ceratozamia, Chigua, Encephalartos, Macrozamia and Lepidozamia species as well as the monotypic genus Microcycas. The third family, Stangeriaceae, is the smallest and has yet to feature here. It contains 3 recognised living species in 2 genera, one of which is Bowenia serrulata as shown below.
bowenia serrulata

All 3 members of the Stangeriaceae have underground stems and throw up leaves from below ground. In Bowenia these leaves are bi-pinnate and really rather fern like (in the same greenhouse as this specimen I spent quite a while trying to work out if a fern was the other Bowenia species)

bowenia serrulata6

Bowenia serrulata is, due to its fernlike leaves, confusingly known as the Byfield Fern and is found only in Queensland, Australia. It is also one of the few cycads to ever be commercially exploited. Its leaves were harvested for use in floral arrangements and were sufficiently popular for plastic imitations to be made once the harvesting stopped after the plants were protected.

bowenia serrulata4

As you’d expect from a cycad without a trunk this one isn’t very big – the leaf stalks can grow up to 4 or 5 feet up and then branch. Due to this structure adult plants only usually produce a few leaves and doesn’t flush rosettes.


green wallaby said...

soegampI have a Byfield fern (cycad) which after about35 years has developed a cone at the base of the frond. As I am Victoria it is most unexpected. Will it be fertile?

tai haku said...

It will be but your plant will be either male or female. only females can develop seeds and then only with the benefit of pollen from a male plant (which seems unlikely given your location I'm afraid).