Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 11:53 EDT

Hawaiian Tree Fern, Cibotium menziesii

The Hawaiian Tree Fern or Male Tree Fern (Cibotium menziesii), is a species of tree fern, of the genus Cibotium which is endemic to the islands of Hawaii, and is found on all the windward Hawaiian islands. The habitat of this species is damp forest areas, usually at elevations varying between 1,000 and 6,000 feet. They can grown on the ground or epiphytically, growing on trees. It is also very adaptable and can withstand cool winter temperatures.

These ferns can grow up to 35 feet tall but usually averaging between 7 and 25 feet in height and having a diameter of nearly three feet. It is Hawaii’s largest tree fern. The trunk is made of stiff hard fibers surrounding a starchy material in the center. The fronds as long as 12 feet and the frond stem is covered in red or black bristles though the fronds themselves are green with yellow midribs which are paler on the underside, The fronds are singularly divided but divide at the end where the spores form.

This species reproduces through the use of spores, which form at are released at the end of the fronds. For domestic and commercial reproduction, spores are collected from the lower fronds of the plant, which are heated, treated with water and kept under refrigerated conditions. Also the side shoots off the main trunk are viable and need to be cut close to the trunk.

This plant has many uses, some parts are used as food, others as medicinal or herbal remedies and is also used in other ways. The starchy core of the trunk can be cooked (often stewed) and eaten, as was a staple food during times of famine. This part of the trunk is sought out by feral pigs which have escaped from farming installations and is subsequently damaging the population of tree fern. The pith of the trunk is used in a combination of other Hawaiian plants to create a ‘blood purifier’, and is used in other combinations to help relieve weakness or chest pains. Heated fibers of the fronds are used to cure numerous bodily ailments such as muscle pain, stiff joints etc.

The pulu (the frond fibers) were also used in preparation for burial as they will absorb the body fluids. This is still used in traditional burials. These same fibers are also used in traditionally made pillows which are also sold as souvenirs on the islands. The trunk is sometimes hollowed out and used as a planting pot.

Due to the non native invasive species in Hawaii, the nursery trade, the use of the plant for decoration or as pots and the effect of feral boars, the population is being decreased at an alarming rate.

Hawaiian Tree Fern Cibotium menziesii