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Publication #FPS-557

Sphaeropteris cooperi Australian Tree Fern1

Edward F. Gilman2


The Australian tree fern is a tropical, single-trunked, giant fern that can reach a height of 15 to 30 feet. It has long, bipinnately compound, lacy leaves that give it a fine texture. The 1- to 1 1/2-foot-long leaves form a handsome canopy and impart a tropical effect. The fern produces one trunk that is woolly or russet in appearance, and it may attain a diameter of 1 foot. This plant reproduces by spores found on the undersides of mature leaves.

General Information

Scientific name: Sphaeropteris cooperi
Pronunciation: spheer-rop-TEER-riss KOOP-per-rye
Common name(s): Australian tree fern
Family: Cyatheaceae
Plant type: tree
USDA hardiness zones: 10B through 11 (Fig. 1)
Planting month for zone 10 and 11: year round
Origin: not native to North America
Uses: near a deck or patio; specimen; border; suitable for growing indoors
Availability: generally available in many areas within its hardiness range

Figure 1. 

Shaded area represents potential planting range.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Height: 12 to 18 feet
Spread: 8 to 15 feet
Plant habit: upright
Plant density: open
Growth rate: slow
Texture: fine


Leaf arrangement: spiral
Leaf type: odd-pinnately compound
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: lanceolate
Leaf venation: none, or difficult to see
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen
Leaf blade length: less than 2 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no fall color change
Fall characteristic: not showy


Flower color: no flowers
Flower characteristic: no flowers


Fruit shape: no fruit
Fruit length: less than .5 inch
Fruit cover: dry or hard
Fruit color: no fruit
Fruit characteristic: no fruit

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: no thorns; usually with one stem/trunk
Current year stem/twig color: not applicable
Current year stem/twig thickness: not applicable


Light requirement: plant grows in the shade
Soil tolerances: acidic; sand; loam; clay
Drought tolerance: unknown
Soil salt tolerances: poor
Plant spacing: 36 to 60 inches


Roots: usually not a problem
Winter interest: no special winter interest
Outstanding plant: plant has outstanding ornamental features and could be planted more
Invasive potential: not known to be invasive
Pest resistance: long-term health usually not affected by pests

Use and Management

Australian tree fern is delightful as a specimen plant in a shaded garden. It is often planted around a shaded pool or small pond for the double image created on the water. This is a wonderful landscape plant where winter temperatures do not drop below freezing. It is sure to illicit a comment from friends and passersby.

Australian tree fern prefers fertile, well-drained, sandy loam soils. An area in the landscape that receives partial to full shade is best. This plant requires regular moisture, and it needs light fertilizing at regular intervals during the growing season.

Australian tree fern is propagated by sowing the spores found on the undersides of mature leaves.

Pests and Diseases

Australian tree fern is bothered by mites and mealy bugs, and termites may inhabit its trunk. It usually resists diseases.



This document is FPS-557, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1999. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at


Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.