Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
4 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

Disease and soil disturbance effects on Pacific madrone
April 02, 2007 - I have a couple acres, here in Northern California Sierra Nevada foothills. My property has many, many trees - quite a few are the beautiful (yet messy!) Arbutus menziesii, or Pacific Madrone. Some ...
view the full question and answer

Native evergreen to replace non-native chinaberry
November 08, 2011 - Looking for a native evergreen tree to replace a fruitless Chinaberry that was 35 years old. We have clay soil for about 3 feet and then you hit rock. Suggestions would be appreciated.
view the full question and answer

Location of pine trees for a wedding site in Grapevine TX
April 30, 2014 - Okay, I know this is a long shot. My daughter is getting married in Grapevine, October 18 at sunrise. She REALLY wants to have the ceremony near pine trees. Any suggestions for locations in Grapevine ...
view the full question and answer

How can I tell the age of a Pecan tree in Rosenberg, TX?
September 03, 2010 - How can I tell the age of a Pecan tree? I live on the Brazos River and have a lot of large Pecan trees but the largest is approx. 11 ft. around.
view the full question and answer

Scorched leaves on Red Maple from Lufkin TX
April 30, 2012 - I have a Red Maple that we planted in Lufkin, TX about a month ago and fertilized about 2 weeks ago. We water the tree often. The leaves have become scorched looking on the outside of about 1/3 of t...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.