Alsophila (plant)

  (Redirected from Cyathea sect. Alsophila)

Alsophila is a genus of tree ferns in the family Cyatheaceae.[1] It has also been considered to be a section in the subgenus Cyathea of the genus Cyathea.

Cyathea Capenis - TreeFern - Cape Town.JPG
Alsophila capensis
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Division: Polypodiophyta
Class: Polypodiopsida
Order: Cyatheales
Family: Cyatheaceae
Genus: Alsophila
Unfurling frond of Alsophila dealbata (silver fern)


Species of Alsophila have a treelike growth habit, with an erect trunk that rarely branches, or sometimes a more shrublike habit, with a creeping stem. Their fronds are large, with a strawlike stalk (stipe), dark brown or black in colour. Brown or dark brown scales are present, with distinct margins. The blade (lamina) of the frond is divided one to three times (one- to three-pinnate). The sori (spore-producing structures) are rounded and borne on smaller veins on the lower surface of the frond. An indusium (a covering to the sori) may or may not be present; if present initially, it may be lost as the frond ages.[2]

Alsophila is now separated from the other genera in the family Cyatheaceae primarily on the basis of molecular phylogenetic studies.[1] The scales on the stalks (petioles) provide a morphological distinction. Alsophila has scales with distinct margins, unlike Sphaeropteris, and with an apical hair or spine (seta), unlike Cyathea. The ornamentation of the spores also distinguishes Alsophila and Cyathea.[3][4]


The genus Alsophila was erected by Robert Brown in 1810.[5] It is placed in the family Cyatheaceae.[1] The division of the family into genera has had a long and controversial history.[4] Three or four clades have been suggested based on molecular phylogenetic studies. The Pteridophyte Phylogeny Group classification of 2016 (PPG I) accepts three genera, placing the Gymnosphaera clade within Alsophila.[1] In 2018, Dong and Zuo proposed the relationship shown in the cladogram below, and provided names in Gymnosphaera for species they considered to belong in this genus.[6]




Alsophila sensu lato

Alsophila sensu stricto


Older sources, such as the New Zealand Organisms Register as of October 2000 and Large and Braggins (2004), place Alsophila within a broadly defined Cyathea.[7][8]


The Pteridophyte Phylogeny Group classification of 2016 (PPG I) accepts the genus Alsophila with 275 species.[1] As of August 2019, the Checklist of Ferns and Lycophytes of the World accepted the following species:[9]

Distribution and habitatEdit

The genus Alsophila is native in tropical and subtropical areas, from North and South America, through Africa, Madagascar and tropical Asia, to eastern Australasia as far south as the subantarctic Auckland Islands.[10][2] It is found in moist montane forests, on slopes or in ravines, forming part of the lower canopy, middle understorey, or ground layers.[2]


Alsophila species all require frost-free or virtually frost-free, permanently moist, shaded conditions. Those which have been grown in Europe outside their native habitat include A. australis, A. cunninghamii, A. dealbata, A. leichhardtiana and A. rebeccae.[11] Other species are grown in their native regions. In Australia, A. australis is commonly grown and is a robust species, capable of tolerating some sun if kept in moist soil.[12] A. dregei is a popular garden plant in South Africa, with plants being collected for use from the wild sufficiently often to cause it to become extinct in some areas.[13]


The silver fern, Alsophila dealbata has become a widely recognised symbol of New Zealand, although it is not an official national symbol.[14]

In the 1971 comedy film A New Leaf, Henrietta Lowell (played by Elaine May) is a botanist whose dream is to classify a new species of fern. On a honeymoon trip, she indeed discovers a new species which she names Alsophila grahami after her new husband Henry Graham (Walter Matthau). She describes the plant as having a vestigial indusium.


  1. ^ a b c d e f PPG I (2016). "A community-derived classification for extant lycophytes and ferns". Journal of Systematics and Evolution. 54 (6): 563–603. doi:10.1111/jse.12229. S2CID 39980610.
  2. ^ a b c Zhang, Xianchun & Nishida, Harufumi. "Alsophila". In Wu, Zhengyi; Raven, Peter H. & Hong, Deyuan (eds.). Flora of China (online). Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  3. ^ Weigand, Anna & Lehnert, Marcus (2016), "The scaly tree ferns (Cyatheaceae-Polypodiopsida) of Brazil", Acta Botanica Brasilica, 30 (3): 336–350, doi:10.1590/0102-33062016abb0065
  4. ^ a b Korall, Petra; Conant, David S.; Metzgar, Jordan S.; Schneider, Harald & Pryer, Kathleen M. (2007). "A molecular phylogeny of scaly tree ferns (Cyatheaceae)". American Journal of Botany. 94 (5): 873–886. doi:10.3732/ajb.94.5.873. PMID 21636456. Retrieved 2019-08-22.
  5. ^ "Alsophila R.Br". The International Plant Names Index. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  6. ^ Dong, Shi-Yong & Zuo, Zheng-Yu (2018). "On the Recognition of Gymnosphaera As a Distinct Genus in Cyatheaceae". Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 103 (1): 1–23. doi:10.3417/2017049. S2CID 90852235.
  7. ^ "Alsophila R.Br.", NZOR New Zealand Organisms Register, October 2000, retrieved 2019-09-27
  8. ^ Large, Mark F. & Braggins, John E. (2004). Tree Ferns. Timber Press. ISBN 978-0-88192-630-9.
  9. ^ Hassler, Michael & Schmitt, Bernd (June 2019). Checklist of Ferns and Lycophytes of the World. 8. Retrieved 2019-08-21.
  10. ^ "Alsophila R.Br". Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  11. ^ Walters, S.M.; Brady, A.; Brickell, C.D.; Cullen, J.; Green, P.S.; Lewis, J.; Matthews, V.A.; Webb, D.A.; Yeo, P.F. & Alexander, J.C.M., eds. (1986), "Alsophila", European Garden Flora, 1, Cambridge University Press, p. 35, ISBN 978-0-521-76147-5
  12. ^ "Cyathea australis, Cyathea cooperi", Growing Native Plants, Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, retrieved 2019-09-27
  13. ^ Masinga, Nonhlanhla; Nduli, Luckyboy; Skhosana, Mlondi & Notten, Alice (November 2018), "Alsophila dregei ",, retrieved 2019-09-27
  14. ^ "Government and nation - National animal and flower". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 3 March 2009. Retrieved 2019-09-27.