Explore Plants

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 

Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
2 ratings

Friday - June 17, 2011

From: Louisville, KY
Region: Southeast
Topic: Trees
Title: Plant identification of fern-like tree in Tennessee/North Carolina
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Was on my way to Hilton Head and noticed near the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, there was a tree standing about 4 feet tall. Thin straight trunk and at the very top was fern looking foliage. It looked like a mini palm tree but with a fern at the top rather than palm leaves. No berries, buds or flowers were present.

ANSWER:

 There are tree ferns that grow in New Zealand, Australia and some Polynesian islands, but none of the most common genera, Cyathea or Dicksonia, are shown by the USDA to occur in the wild in continental North America.  That doesn't mean that they don't occur in gardens, but the climate at the border of Tennessee and North Carolina is likely to be too cold for an escapee from a garden to survive.

Here are suggestions for native trees or shrubs that occur in the border area of Tennessee and North Carolina that could possibly be what you saw:

Rhus typhina (Staghorn sumac) has pinnately-compound leaves like a fern and there is even a cultivar called Cutleaf Staghorn sumac 'Laciniata' that makes it look even more fern-like.  Female plants are usually seen with clusters of red berries that form in the fall and persist through the winter.  Male plants, however, would not have berries.

Rhus glabra (Smooth sumac) also has pinnately-compound leaves and males would not show the red berries.  There is also a 'Laciniata' cultivar for this species, but they are females that would bear the red berries.  There is also a hybrid (Rhus x pulvinata) of R. glabra and R. typhina that has the cut leaves that look more fern-like.

Comptonia peregrina (Sweet fern) has fern-like leaves but it generally grows a low rounded bush with a maximum height of 4 feet. 

You can look through the native trees and shrubs that occur in the area by doing a COMBINATION SEARCH in our Native Plant Database and choosing North Carolina from the Select State or Province option and then 'Tree' or 'Shrub' under Habit (general appearance).   (I would pick North Carolina rather than Tennessee since you were traveling in the direction of North Carolina.)  Of course, you may have seen some non-native tree that I haven't thought of that wouldn't be in our Native Plant Database.

 

From the Image Gallery


Staghorn sumac
Rhus typhina

Smooth sumac
Rhus glabra

Smooth sumac
Rhus glabra

More Trees Questions

Small tree for container near pool in Houston
June 24, 2010 - Can you recommend a small tree that I can grow in a pot for shade? Looking for minimal mess because it will be near the pool. How big should the pot be?
view the full question and answer

Time to transplant shade tree seedlings from San Antonio
September 28, 2013 - What month do you transplant shade tree seedlings in San Antonio, TX<
view the full question and answer

Is Ilex glabra Shamrock a female cultivar
June 02, 2008 - I have an ilex glabra "shamrock". Is it a FEMALE cultivar? I have only found information that the "compacta" and the "nigra" are females. I have a male ilex glabra and was hoping to have berrie...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants on dogwoods
August 05, 2005 - I am interested in the worldwide distribution of the dogwood family/cornus. Specifically, I am interested in whether or not there are indiginous species on the Indian Subcontinent. Is there a resour...
view the full question and answer

Propogating snowbells from Elmendorf TX
June 06, 2012 - Is it possible to propagate Styrax platanifolius and Halesia diptera from cuttings? If yes, what is the process?
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.