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Relict Plants in the Age of Dinosaurs - Common Tree Fern and Taiwaniana Alsophila


_Taiwaniana Alsophila can grow as big as large trees.jpg

The fern species resembling an arborescent structure which can be found all over the world mainly belong to the Cyathea family. In Taiwan, Common Tree Fern, also known as the brush pot tree, and Taiwaniana Alsophila are the two most common types of tree fern.

Relict Plants in the Age of Dinosaurs - Common Tree Fern

Do you remember the scene in Jurassic Park with the dinosaur standing beside beautiful trees that look like large, feathery question marks? They are Common Tree Ferns and Taiwaniana Alsophila, the tree ferns most frequently seen in the mountain forests of Taiwan. Older than dinosaurs, these ferns can be regarded as one of the most peculiar and eye-catching fern plants in Taiwan.


In fact, it is almost impossible to miss the fern trees which grow as big as large trees while hiking in the forests at low and medium altitudes in Taiwan. But are you able to discriminate Common Tree Fern from Taiwaniana Alsophila? Though a Common Tree Fern can grow to more than 10m tall, it is difficult to tell the species apart by their height if you happen to come across them during the growth period. Fortunately, there is a distinguishing feature that makes them easy to differentiate: the suspension of dried leaves on the tree.

The dried leaves or “flags”Left pic is Common Tree Fern, right pic is Taiwaniana Alsophila are the best protectors of the Taiwaniana Alsophila. The vines growing up the fern tree make its dried leaves fall off as the leaves can’t bear the weight of the vines. The fern can thus continue to grow well without having vines tangled in its leaves. Since there is nothing weird or strange in Nature, this may be the way of survival that developed in the course of evolution.


On the other hand, the flags of the Common Tree Fern tend to fall off directly and completely. As veined patterns of hole shapes which look like snakeskin can be discovered on the trunk, the Common Tree Fern is also known as “snake wood”. Now I am quite sure that you can easily discriminate the two types of plants from each other by the two major characteristics mentioned above.

Although stunning large ferns are not endemic species in Taiwan, arborescent ferns are not only rare and precious but are also the only remaining species whose exteriors look the same as giant, ancestral trees among the existing fern plants from a global perspective. Both Common Tree Fern and Taiwaniana Alsophila were included in the list of rare plants to be protected in the Chinese national white paper on rare plant conservation in 1992. This shows that Taiwan is provided with the chance to grow these valuable ancient ferns thanks to its dominant, varied ecological environment meticulously differentiated by virtue of its special geographic location and young geology.