Filmy ferns add a delicate, enveloping beauty to New Zealand’s forests. Most are translucent, with fronds only one or a few cells thick. Most are small, but they can carpet large areas of the ground or be prominent on the trunks of trees.
New Zealand is home to 31 species of filmy ferns. That’s nearly one-sixth of New Zealand’s indigenous ferns and lycophytes, and the Hymenophyllaceae has more species than any other fern family in New Zealand. Seventeen of these 31 species are only found in New Zealand. The remainder are shared with Australia, the Pacific, or further afield. Worldwide, there are some 600 species in the Hymenophyllaceae family.
We’ve just published the chapter on the Hymenophyllaceae filmy ferns for the electronic Flora of New Zealand (eFloraNZ), which covers pretty much everything you might want to know about the diversity and distribution of these ferns.
As with all eFloraNZ chapters, the filmy fern chapter come in two forms:
- the web version. With its hyperlinks, this is good for browsing through. And it has bigger pictures.
- the pdf version. (22 MB.) This is good if you prefer a more book-like experience. You can print the pdf, and go offline.
Hymenophyllum and Trichomanes
Two filmy fern genera are recognised in New Zealand. Twenty-four of New Zealand’s species belong to Hymenophyllum, with the other seven species in Trichomanes
New Zealand is a special place for the Hymenophyllum filmy ferns. Nine of the world’s ten subgenera occur in New Zealand. Nowhere else has as many. (And two of the subgenera are found only in New Zealand.)
The eFloraNZ chapter includes a distribution map for each species. These are based on herbarium specimens held by Te Papa, Auckland Museum, and Landcare Research (and supplemented by records from Otago University).
Distribution maps are fascinatingly revealing about the species in question as well as New Zealand’s physical environment (and the behaviour of botanical collectors). The maps for most filmy ferns show a strong bias for the wetter west, especially in the South Island, albeit often with outposts around Banks Peninsula and Dunedin.
Some common New Zealand species
As an introduction to the diversity of New Zealand’s filmy ferns, here are a few of the more common species.
If you would like to know the names of the filmy ferns that you see, the eFloraNZ includes an identification key. Alternatively, take a photo of a filmy fern and upload it to the citizen science website NatureWatchNZ. The features to take particular note of, especially with Hymenophyllum, are: the shape and position of the reproductive structures; the presence of hairs; and whether there are ‘teeth’ on the margins of the frond segments.
Some overseas species for comparison
Since New Zealand has only a few species of Trichomanes, here are a few overseas species to stretch the imagination.
Went for a lovely bushwalk today..I look out for filmy ferns but today was extra special as the spring growth of new kidney ferns was very pretty, plus I saw the spores radiating around mature ferns today too, for the first time. I came across this article whilst looking for the name of these.
What´s the difference between a fern and a palm?
Never mind palms in the dessert.
Good question, because they can have similar looking leaves. Palms are flowering plants, with flowers, fruits, and seeds. Ferns have no flowers, and have spores rather than seeds. Some palms grow in deserts, but not all – the NZ nikau palm grows in wet forests. Ferns usually like wet places, but some grow in deserts.
Kind regards, Leon
Brought up on a bush block south of Port Waikato. Always fascinated by ferns and made a dried collection as a kid. Don’t get out as much these days and this blog is fantastic. Thanks.
This was a really interesting read, thank you very much.
Fastastic viewing the different types of ferns found in beautiful New Zealand