Scaly Tree Ferns
Photo by Jerry & Linda Harrison
Scaly Tree Ferns look like something out of Jurassic Park—in fact, they are ancient plants and originated in the late Jurassic. They are true ferns (Class Pteridopsida) that are rather tree-like in appearance, with trunk-like stems. The world’s tallest tree ferns are in this family, and can grow up to 20 m tall. The fronds are some of the largest in the plant kingdom, reaching 3-4 m in some species. The pinnate leaves are covered in scales and hairs; “sori” or spore clusters are located on the undersides of the leaves. They are mostly terrestrial (although some are epiphytic). Tree ferns growing in the forest understory have adapted fronds allowing chlorophyll to photosynthesize more efficiently in lower light conditions. In the family Cyatheaceae, there are 13 genera; the genus Cyathea is the largest and contains approximately 500 species, although the exact number of species is unknown. Scaly tree ferns are found in wet lowlands to mid-elevations in tropical regions around the world, and there are more than 40 species of Cyathea in Panama.
From the Greek: “Cyathea” comes from the Greek word “kyatheion”, meaning “little cup”, referring to the cup-shaped sori on the fronds.