‘Golden Chicken Fern’
The name Cibotium barometz derives from:
Cibotium – the Greek kibotion, a small box often used to hold medical remedies.
barometz – is from the Tartar word meaning lamb, and refers to the woolly rhizome.
The common Chinese names for this tree fern include ‘Jinmao Gou’ or ‘Jinmao Gouji’ (Golden Hair Dog Fern, also called Scythian lamb), in Guangdong province it is called “Huanggoutou” (Yellow Dog’s Head Fern). In Malay the fern is known as Penawar jambi, bulu pusi, bulu empusi. The common European names for this fern include the ‘Woolly Fern’, Tartar for ‘lamb’, the vegetable lamb’.
Cibotium barometz is a tropical and subtropical species distributed in China, Indonesia (from Java to Sumatra), Japan, North East India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. In China it is mainly distributed in southern and south-western regions. The species is usually found on hillsides, gullies and forests, where it is shady and damp. The species grows at altitudes between 200-1500m. Cibotium barometz is not hardy and will not tolerate any frost.
Cibotium barometz is an easily distinguished slow growing rhizome forming fern. Overtime it will produce a prostrate trunk covered in golden orange/brown hairs, with the trunk reaching 1.2m (4ft) in height. Fronds can grow to reach 3m x 16cm (10ft x 6 inches) and are a light green when mature.
Cibotium barometz has many myths attached to it. The most famous myth is the Vegetable Lamb of Tartar. A legendary plant of central Asia, this was believed to grow sheep as its fruit. The sheep were connected to the plant by an umbilical cord and grazed the land around the plant. When all the plants were gone, both the plant and sheep died. The ‘lamb’ is produced by removing the fronds from just above the fern’s rhizome. When the rhizome is inverted, it supposedly resembles a woolly lamb with the legs being formed by the upturned stipe bases.
Besides the many myths surrounding Cibotium barometz the fern is also used as a medicinal remedy which has been a major cause of the population decimation over the last three decades. It is believed that this plant replenishes the liver and kidney, strengthens bones and muscles, and eases backache. Hairs on the rhizome of this plant have long been used as a styptic for bleeding wounds in China and Malaysia.
Due to both the myths and the plants use in Chinese medicine the species is in serious decline. Since 1997, in China CITES has not allowed the export trade of Cibotium barometz until further notice. However the plant is still harvested in other parts of south-east Asia. Rhizomes can be seen on sale in the pasar malam or night market around the Cameron and other rural areas.
This fern is only for serious collectors if grown outside of warmer climates. The species is worth trying as container grown specimen and brought under cover through winter. This species will also tolerate sun, but needs to be kept moist.
Cibotium barometz is best grown in slightly acidic soil although in some parts of China the fern can be found growing in marginally alkaline soils. The fern should be protected from the strong midday sun. In its natural habitat the fern can be found growing on fairly exposed hillsides, but generally in these temperate areas cold winds and very strong sunlight are not a problem. The ‘Golden Chicken Fern’ will need a good level of humidity.
Family Name: Dicksoniaceae
Common Names: Golden Hair Dog Fern, Woolly Fern.
Position: Sunny – partial shade.
Soil: Humus-rich, neutral to acid soil.
Growth Rate: slow.
Eventual spread: 6m.
Max Height: 1m.
Hardiness: Not hardy.
Summer tips: Keep the plant well watered and out of the midday heat.