‘West Indian Tree Fern’
The name Cyathea arborea derives from:
Cyathea – from the Greek ‘kyatheion’ meaning little cup, referring to the structure that holds the spores.
arborea – refers to tree-like appearance of the species, one of the earliest tree ferns to be described in Europe in the 18th century.
Common and native names include the ‘West Indian Tree Fern’, ‘Caribbean Tree Fern’, ‘Fwijè’ (St Lucia) and ‘helecho arbóreo’.
Cyathea arborea is found growing natively on the following Caribbean Islands Greater Antilles, St. Thomas, Tortola, and Lesser Antilles in Saba, St. Kitts, Nevis, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Montserrat, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada and Trinidad. The species can also be found in Central America in the lowlands of eastern Mexico through to Venezuela. The species grows alongside roadside and rivers and in lowland and sub-montane rain forest at elevations ranging from 0 to 864 meters (0 to 2,835 feet). The species will quickly colonize on recently disturbed land. With the species quick to establish it is the most common tree fern in the Caribbean.
Cyathea arborea is a fast growing tree fern that’s trunk can reach heights in excess of 12m (39ft) with a diameter of 15cm (6″). The slender un-branched brown trunk is unlike other species the fern can be found growing in amongst such as Cyathea brittoniana as it is smooth and scaly and lacks any spines, instead having white hairs. The trunk often shows large oval leaf scars, with the fronds detaching from the trunk soon after dying leaving this species with the absence of skirt of dead fronds.
Cyathea arborea will typically have 10-15 elegantly arching light green fronds that can reach up to 4m (13ft) in length. This species is relatively easy to grow from spore if you can get hold of fresh viable spore. The species grows in regions where the typical temperature range is between 10-27°C (50-81°F), it is not hardy and would need to be brought inside in colder climates over winter.
In traditional St Lucian culture the starchy pith or heart of Cyathea arborea is cut out, sliced and put in a jar of water that is drunk as people believe this helps them stay cooler.
Cyathea arborea is best situated in an area of bright indirect sunlight which can be kept moist and maintain a high level of humidity. These type of conditions are not easy to recreate outdoors away from sub-tropical climates, this makes it an ideal species to grow under glass for many. The species requires a rich humus compost which retains water but does not become waterlogged.
Family Name: Cyatheaceae.
Common Name: West Indian Tree Fern, Caribbean Tree Fern, Fwijè (St Lucia).
Position: Semi shaded.
Soil: Humus-rich, moisture retaining.
Growth Rate: Fast.
Eventual spread: 8m
Max Height: 12m
Hardiness: Not Hardy.
Summer tips: Keep plants moist, without waterlogging.