kātote, Smith’s tree fern, soft tree fern
Cyathea smithii Hook. f.; Hemitelia smithii (Hook.f.) Hook. ex Hook. et Baker
Vascular – Native
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.
2n = 138
Current conservation status
The conservation status of all known New Zealand vascular plant taxa at the rank of species and below were reassessed in 2017 using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS). This report includes a statistical summary and brief notes on changes since 2012 and replaces all previous NZTCS lists for vascular plants. Authors: By Peter J. de Lange, Jeremy R. Rolfe, John W. Barkla, Shannel P. Courtney, Paul D. Champion, Leon R. Perrie, Sarah M. Beadel, Kerry A. Ford, Ilse Breitwieser, Ines Schönberger, Rowan Hindmarsh-Walls, Peter B. Heenan and Kate Ladley.
2012 | Not Threatened
Previous conservation statuses
2009 | Not Threatened
2004 | Not Threatened
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.
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 Alsophila 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).
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 Alsophila cunninghamii which often grows in the same habitats. The scales of Alsophila cunninghamii are more variable than those of A. smithii, often golden-brown to yellow and terminated by a short (1 mm long) stiff bristle like seta.
Easily grown but needs shelter from strong winds and must never be allowed to dry out. Does better in wetter parts of the country.
smithii: After the British botanist John Smith (1798-1888) or Stephenson Percy Smith (1840-1922).
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
NZPCN Fact Sheet citation
Please cite as: de Lange, P.J. (Year at time of access): Alsophila smithii Fact Sheet (content continuously updated). New Zealand Plant Conservation Network. https://www.nzpcn.org.nz/flora/species/alsophila-smithii/ (Date website was queried)