Try growing: local Illawarra ferns

Native Australian ferns were all the rage in the seventies - growing in gardens, bathrooms and of course in home-made hanging macrame pot-holders. You could get Hare's-foot Fern (Davallia solida), Mother Spleenwort (Asplenium bulbiferum, also known as Hen and Chickens) and of course good old Fishbone Fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia), which is now a dreadful weed in many parts of Australia. Ah those were the days!

It's hard to find a good range of local ferns now, but a select few are widely available. Some of the most versatile, like Bird's Nest Fern and Maidenhair Fern, are regulars at certain large hardware shops, while the Tree Ferns are often sold by native plant nurseries.
One of the classic native ferns that grow in the region, Bird's Nest Fern grows on rocks or trees, or sometimes on the ground, and can reach up to 2m across. Baby plants are minute, and may be found growing on damp spots in gardens, even on shady brick walls. It's a great display fern for a rainforest garden. Image by Emma Rooksby.
Maidenhair Fern can be seen growing in gardens around the Illawarra, usually in damp areas with dappled sun. Here it's happily paired up with Native Violet (Viola hederacea). Image by Emma Rooksby.
Straw Tree Fern (Cyathea cooperi, also called Cooper's Tree Fern) has a very slender trunk covered with distinctive lozenge-shaped marks where the old fronds have detached. It prefers damp and sheltered areas, but will cope with part sun in these conditions. Image by Emma Rooksby.
Rough Tree Fern (Cyathea australis) grows well in the Illawarra region, and will be fine in full sunlight as long as it gets regular moisture. Growing lower plants around its base will help retain soil moisture by preventing evaporation. Image by Emma Rooksby.
If you look around you may find other local ferns for sale. Wollongong Botanic Garden's GreenPlan Nursery regularly has these species, and quite a few others. 


Prickly Rasp Fern (Doodia aspera) is one of the toughest native ferns and will grow in relatively dry, exposed spots. It tends to form wide clumps, given the chance. The reddish colour of new fronds is a great feature of this species. Image by Elena Martinez.
Rough Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum hispidulum) is as tough as regular Maidenhair Fern (A. aethiopicum) but has larger fronds with an interesting shape. This plant is growing in part sun in Mangerton. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
The unfortunately-named Gristle Fern (Blechnum cartilagineum) is another fabulously tough local fern (well, tough for a fern at least!). It is one of the larger ground ferns, and can form clumps a couple of metres across in good conditions. 
Jungle Brake (Pteris umbrosa) is a bit harder to come by, but amazingly decorative if you can find it. Its large, dark green fronds can reach up to 1m tall or even taller. Image by Emma Rooksby.
Sadly, some of the real cuties are difficult to buy. Here's just a sample of a couple of them. 
If only Necklace Fern (Asplenium flabellifolium) were available in nurseries. It's such a pretty little plant, and will ramble around next to rocks or fallen logs, creating a green carpet effect. It's a great place for lizards to hide. Image by Elena Martinez.
The ever-fabulous Fragrant Fern (Microsorum scandens) doing its thing up a large rainforest tree on the foothills of Mount Keira. This fern is very ornamental with its climbing habit and the different shapes of its fertile and non-fertile fronds. You can see it growing on a Tree Fern at Mount Keira Scout Camp (near the swimming pool). Sadly it's very hard to obtain. Image by Emma Rooksby.
And last but not least, Rock Felt Fern (Pyrrosia rupestris) will grow on rocks, trees, logs and even in the ground. It too has differently shaped fertile and non-fertile fronds, which make quite a contrast. This plant would be popular if only people could get hold of it. Image by Kath Gadd. All rights reserved.
These ferns have a million and one uses in gardens and landscaping around the Illawarra region. In rainforest gardens, cool damp areas alongside houses or underneath shady trees, or as feature plants indoors or out, there are just so many options. If you're aware of a nursery that stocks the less available detailed here, or others, please do take a moment to share the good news!

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