Australian Native Ferns

Course CodeVHT116
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

How Much Do You Know About Australian Ferns?

Learn which ferns occur naturally in Australia along with:

  • Identifying ferns,
  • Where to obtain relevant accurate information,
  • How to propagate ferns, and
  • Growing and using ferns in baskets, terrariums, and landscapes.



  • Become an expert in Australian native ferns
  • Extend your knowledge for working in Australian nature parks
  • Design ferneries using Australian native ferns
  • Extend your care and maintenance skills for working in ferneries

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction
    • Review of the system of plant identification, general characteristics of the ferns, main groups, information contacts (ie: nurseries, seed, clubs, etc.)
  2. Culture
    • Planting, mulching, watering, pest & disease, feeding, pruning, protection from wind, salt air, etc.
  3. Propagation
    • Methods of propagating ferns. Propagation of selected varieties.
  4. The Most Commonly Grown Varieties.
    • Maidenhairs, tree ferns, stags, elks, common ground ferns.
  5. Other Important Groups
    • Blechnum, Nephrolepis, Pteris, etc.
  6. Other Varieties
    • Hares foot ferns, Bracken, Fans.
  7. Making the Best Use of Native Ferns
    • In containers, in the ground, as indoor plants, growing and showing, growing for profit (to sell the plants or what they produce).
  8. Special Assignment
    • A major project on one genera of ferns.


  • Discuss the diverse range of ferns native to Australia and the plant naming and classification system.
  • Describe the cultural requirements of ferns
  • Propagate ferns and identify various propagating media and methods.
  • Describe a range of ferns that are commonly grown and freely available at nurseries.
  • Explain the significance of a range of important Australian fern species
  • Differentiate less common species of Australian fern genera
  • Demonstrate more in depth the knowledge acquired through research, of a specific group of ferns.

In order to grow ferns successfully you will need an understanding of the types of conditions that ferns prefer to grow in. This can be somewhat achieved b looking at their natural environment. The habitat is moist, sheltered, shady and protected from winds often in gullies or near waterways such as creeks or streams. Once you have an awareness of their natural preference and habitat it is possible to recreate these conditions artificially in a garden, glasshouse or shade-house.

Ferns are normally propagated by either growing from spores or by tissue culture techniques. A few species can be grown by other methods such as division or budding off of new plants at the ends of old plants. Maidenhair, Stags and Elks, and fishbones are some of the more common ones which will grow by division. However, commercial production of these is increasingly being done by tissue culture or spore.

What Ferns to Grow?

The modern world has many environmental problems that did not occur in the past; and it is often the more tender species of plants and animal that are first affected by those changes.

Frogs (which must have a moist environment to survive) are affected adversely by various chemical pollutants that appear harmless to other forms of animal life (e.g. the use of glyphosate – also known as zero or roundup – has been linked to decline of frog populations. Ferns which frequently require a moist environment (though there are exceptions), have also been badly affected by environmental change.

  • In Australia, weeds such as lantana and privet, along with imported grass species, have competed strongly with ferns causing their decline in many areas.
  • Imported species of slugs and snails have also devastated ferns in areas where native slugs and snails were never a major problem.
  • In some areas, higher levels of nutrients in the environment (from effluent and fertilizers) have encouraged the growth of liverworts and algae at the expense of ferns.
  • The mobility of diseases has been increased by many human activities and that in turn has resulted in the more susceptible plant species (often ferns) being infected and going into decline.

With changes such as these in our environment, it has become important to select and cultivate resistant varieties of ferns that will suit the needs of urban and domestic use.
“Within a species, native ferns can be selected, bred and developed to certain characteristics that are genetically inherent although not generally obvious, in much the same way that a terrier dog can be bred for black or white ears.  For example: Sticherus flabellatus, as it is generally obvious, has a long running rhizome, seldom branching, with fronds arising sparsely, up to 18 inches apart, tall and rangy.
On the side of a mountain called 'The Castle' on the NSW south coast, a patch of Sticherus flabellatus is hanging grimly to the windswept face of a vertical cliff, exposed to the sun,  heat, cold and persistent winds. These plants have probably existed there for thousands of years, and have developed their own latent characteristics to cope with the environment. Rhizomes are short and branching every 2-3 inches. The fronds are stiff and erect, short, dense and compact, and arise as frequently as every inch along the rhizome. From this plant has been bred the Sticherus flabellatus we are producing today”
A.G. Sonter of Sonters Fern Nursery (Springwood, NSW), IPPS

The ideal characteristics sought in a fern (for commercial production)  will vary from species to species; but may include:

Compact Growth: For many, but not all species; a more compact growth makes the plant denser, and more suited to pot culture.

Hardiness: Many ferns will defoliate rapidly under hot or dry conditions. Species that resist this, are favored. Some species will tolerate frost, salt, winds and other conditions better than others. For indoor plants, a tolerance of different air conditions may be a desirable factor also.

Balance and Form: The shape must be good; the fern needs to be strong and stable (particularly if tall); and not lanky or with sparse foliage.

Disease Resistance: Disease is the singly the biggest problem for any fern Nursery. Plants must be kept very moist to grow; but that same moisture tends to encourage disease.

Adaptability to Commercial Production: The main concerns are economic ones: a new variety must be able to be produced in large numbers rapidly after it has been developed or selected. Often this is difficult because of problems with either germinating or growing on the spore


  • Nurserymen
  • Landscapers
  • Land Managers
  • Horticulturists
  • Gardeners
  • Plant Collectors
  • Environmentalists
  • Anyone with a passion for Australian ferns
  • Professionals, Tradesmen and Amateurs





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