Cibotium is a small family of eleven tree ferns, with species found in Hawaii, South East Asia and Central America. Only a handful of species are in cultivation but they do add great interest to any tree fern collection. The genus was first described in 1824.
The name Cibotium is derived from the Greek kibotion, a small box often used to hold medical remedies. This is in reference to spore on the underside of fronds which look like small boxes.
Cibotium glaucum, from Hawaii, is the most common Cibotium species found. Other species found in Hawaii include Cibotium chamissoi, Cibotium menziesii and Cibotium nealiae. Identification of Cibotium species can be difficult, as all have shiny and rather waxy fronds when viewed from above. The only obvious differential between species is the size of the plant and the colour of hairs seen on the stipe bases.
Cibotium habitats in Hawaii have come under increasing pressure over the last two decades as developers encroach on the pristine forest peripheries. This is especially prevalent in lower lying areas which are more accessible and therefore commercially attractive for land clearance. Another major threat comes from Cyathea cooperi which is widely cultivated in private gardens and has escaped and now out-competes the endemic flora. Wind-blown spores from this fast growing Australian tree fern can migrate many miles into pristine Cibotium forests. This is a fairly recent phenomenon, but one which may eventually have grave consequences for the tree fern ecosystem in Hawaii.
The other Cibotium species that often surface in botanical collections are Cibotium schiedei and Cibotium regale (Mexico), plus Cibotium barometz (Asia). The latter species is best known for its role in ancient medicine, and even today its hairs are a staple ingredient in ointments used in natural Chinese remedies.