or King fern
is a species of fern
native to New Zealand
and the South Pacific
. Large and robust with a distinctive tropical appearance, it has fronds up to 5 metres tall that arise from a starchy base that was a traditional food for the Maori. It has several other common names including para, tawhiti-para, and horseshoe fern.
King fern is indigenous to New Zealand and the South Pacific (possibly elsewhere). In New Zealand it is found in lowland areas on the north-western half of the North Island from inland Wanganui
northwards. It is most abundant in the western Waikato
where it is found in forests and forest remnants. It prefers limestone-rich soils, including the entrances to caves entrance and tomo shafts and shady stream sides. It often grows in association with parataniwha (Elatostema rugosum
) and supplejack (Ripogonum scandens
King fern is in serious decline, seriously threatened throughout its range by feral and domestic cattle, wild pigs and goats. Large plants no longer exist except in areas where there has been rigorous control of animals, or in inaccessible cave entrances or steep-sided gorges in karst
areas. Another serious threat comes from plant collectors who are said to have wiped out several large populations in the Kawhia
The green cane-like leaf stalks are 1 to 3 metres long. The young fronds are protected as they uncoil by a large ear-shaped basal lobe at the base. The glossy, dark green fronds are 4 metres, sometimes 5 metres long and 2 metres wide. The juvenile fronds are less robust, and wilt quickly if exposed to sunlight. In the Kawhia area, a distinctive form is sometimes encountered, which has crested tips on the adult leaflets. Specimens of suitable age may produced spores at any time in the year.
Propagation is difficult. King fern can be grown from spores, but this is extremely slow. It is sometimes offered for sale in nurseries that specialise in native plants.