Cyathea smithii


Cyathea: From the Greek kyatheion 'little cup', referring to the shape of the indusium
smithii: After the British botanist John Smith (1798-1888) or Stephenson Percy Smith (1840-1922).

Common Name(s)

katote, Smiths tree fern, soft tree fern

Current Conservation Status

2012 - Not Threatened

Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2012
The conservation status of all known New Zealand vascular plant taxa at the rank of species and below were reassessed in 2012 using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS). This report includes a statistical summary and brief notes on changes since 2009 and replaces all previous NZTCS lists for vascular plants. Authors: Peter J. de Lange, Jeremy R. Rolfe, Paul D. Champion, Shannel P. Courtney, Peter B. Heenan, John W. Barkla, Ewen K. Cameron, David A. Norton and Rodney A. Hitchmough. File size: 792KB

Previous Conservation Status

2009 - Not Threatened
2004 - Not Threatened


Cyathea smithii Hook. f.



Brief Description

Tree fern with green-stalked soft leaves to 2.5m long. Trunk to 5m tall, skirted by the remains of old leaves. Leaf stems covered in small red and white star-shaped hairs and pointed scales (lens needed). Sporangia arranged in small round capsules underneath leaves.

Flora Category

Vascular - Native

NVS Species Code


The National Vegetation Survey (NVS) Databank is a physical archive and electronic databank containing records of over 94,000 vegetation survey plots - including data from over 19,000 permanent plots. NVS maintains a standard set of species code abbreviations that correspond to standard scientific plant names from the Ngä Tipu o Aotearoa - New Zealand Plants database.

Structural Class



Alsophila smithii (Hook. f.) R.m. Tryon; Hemitelia smithii (Hook.f.) Hook. ex Hook. et Baker


Endemic. New Zealand: North, South, Stewart, Chatham and Auckland Islands.


Lowland to montane (mostly montane in northern New Zealand), usually in dense forest where it is often a common subcanopy species, in wetter areas often extending in open scrub, gullies and valley heads, and within the bushline. In wetter areas Cyathea smithii often forms a tree-fern land in cut over and/or deer damaged indigenous forest, and it may be a common species in pine plantations.


Trunks up to 8 m tall, 50-150 mm diameter, covered with appressed, dark brown stipe stubs. Stipes slender, pale to dark brown, finely rugose, bearing dark red-brown scales with entire margins devoid of spines. Fronds up to 2.5 m long, held horizontally, 3-pinnate, soft, delicate (wilting readily if picked or drought stressed), adaxially dark glossy green, abaxially paler; midribs of dead fronds long persistent as a short skirt around trunk. Longest primary pinnae 250-500 mm long, abaxial surface bearing numerous red and white stellate hairs, and scales with entire or sparingly spinose margins. Indusia saucer-shaped, surrounding sori only at bases when mature. Description modified from Brownsey & Smith-Dodsworth (2000).

Similar Taxa

Easily recognised by the soft, delicate fronds, persistent grass-like skirt of deap stipes and rachises, and by the stipe and frond red-brown scales. Young plants are often confused with Cyathea cunninghamii which often grows in the same habitats. The scales of Cyathea cunninghamii are more variable than those of C. smithii, often golden-brown to yellow and terminated by a short (1 mm long) stiff bristle like seta.



Flower Colours

No Flowers



Propagation Technique

Easily grown but needs shelter from strong winds and must never be allowed to dry out. Does better in wetter parts of the country.


Not Threatened

Chromosome No.

2n = 138

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family



Fact sheet prepared for NZPCN by P.J. de Lange (Updated 23 March 2011). Description modified from Brownsey & Smith-Dodsworth (2000).

References and further reading

Brownsey, P.J.; Smith-Dodsworth, J.C. 2000: New Zealand Ferns and Allied Plants. Auckland, David Bateman


This page last updated on 30 Dec 2014