En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

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
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
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

Sweet fern
Comptonia peregrina

More Trees Questions

Sycamore leaf snowbell from Pleasanton TX
August 18, 2012 - How do you care for a sycamore leaf snowbell. Does it like sun or part shade? How much water? How often and what should it be fed. How fast or slowly does it grow? Anything you can tell me would be ap...
view the full question and answer

Pruning Bald Cypress in Wylie, TX
January 02, 2010 - I have a 6 year old bald cypress that sustained damage to the upper portion of its trunk a couple of years ago. Since that time it has grown more outward than upward and developed a rounder shape. I...
view the full question and answer

Landscaping in Bertram TX
September 25, 2009 - I have a landscaping job in Bertram, Texas and am looking for all my options as far as full and partial shade somewhat hardy plants. I'm mainly looking for small plants and pretty flowers I can do wi...
view the full question and answer

Transplanting a redbud in Virginia Beach VA
April 21, 2010 - I have a 5-6 ft. Redbud Tree and like to dig up and move to different spot in my backyard. How/what is the proper way to do it without killing the tree?
view the full question and answer

Red maple a casualty of Hurricane Ike in Houston
November 21, 2009 - We have a 3 year old Drummond Red Maple, between the sidewalk and the street in front of our house, that fell during Hurricane Ike. We replanted it. I recently noticed that the bark is severely cracke...
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.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center