This is a large, attractive fern for the shady garden.
Ferns are neither Angiosperms (flowering plants) nor Gymnosperms
(cone bearing plants). They do not produce flowers and fruits or
seeds, but are spore producing plants. They are therefore referred
to as Pteridophyta.
The genus name 'Blechnum' was derived from the Greek word 'blechnon'
meaning a fern. The species name 'tabulare', is a direct reference
to Table Mountain in Cape Town, the site where this fern was first
collected between 1772 and 1774.
Blechnum tabulare has underground stems (rhizomes), which
are erect, occasionally spreading and frequently massive. Rhizome
scales are profuse, brown with a blackish-brown central stripe.
They are 15 - 50mm long. The leaves, which are known as fronds,
are arranged in whorls, and may be rigid. The leaf stalk is up to
300mm long and glabrous; except for tufts of scales at the base,
which are similar to those found on the rhizome. This plant consists
of sterile and fertile leaves. The sterile leaves are up to 1.4
x 0.35m long. Leaves are elliptic to oblanceolate in outline with
the base comprising a series of much reduced leaflets. The leaflet
bases are sessile. The margins of leaflets are entire. The texture
is thickly leathery. The upper surface is glabrous with the undersurface
sub-glabrous with the pale-brown hair-like scales set along the
There is considerable variation within Blechnum tabulare.
They seem to vary according to the geographical distribution. The
plants from the winter rainfall regions have a large stem and could
be classified as mini-tree ferns. The leaves are more lax or arching.
The plants from the summer rainfall areas seldom have a stem higher
than 200mm and if they do, it is horizontal. The leaves are held
more erect, and the leaflets are commonly tapering. The degree of
scales on the underside of the leaflet also varies from north to
This fern is widely distributed from southern-western Cape through
southern eastern Africa, to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia,
Angola, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Zaire, Cameroon and Nigeria. Also
on Madagascar, the Mascarene Islands and Tristan da Cunha.
It is commonly found growing in grasslands along streams, often
in rank vegetation, on grassy hillsides, along the margins of evergreen
forests and quite often on roadsides.
Blechnum tabulare can be confused with other species of
Blechnum. In B.tabulare the bases of the pinnae are
unequally shaped, a character not displayed by the other species.
This fern is also frequently mistaken for a small cycad. The growth
habit of these plants at a distance looks similar, although they
are not at all related.
Growing Blechnum tabulare
This plant can only be propagated from spores which disperse and
germinate to form what is known as the prothallus, which is the
sexual growth stage of a fern. The prothallus produces male and
female organs where fertilization takes place and a new fern plant
The mountain blechnum can be propagated from spores sown in a growing
structure where adequate moisture can be maintained. The conditions
have to be cool and moist. The growth media used must contain plenty
of compost, leaf mould and should be well drained. This is however
a very slow and time consuming process. It is advisable to buy a
plant from a reputable nursery if you want quick results.
This is a very decorative garden fern or container plant. In the
garden it must be planted in the semi-shade to full shade. It makes
a beautiful foliage plant for a semi-shade spot on patio or verandah.
Plants are removed illegally from the southern Cape forests, and
are sold as tree ferns, although this species is not related to
the tree ferns, which belong to the family Cyatheaceae. Please assist
in protecting our flora and do not buy plants if you suspect they
have been removed from the wild.
- Joffe, P.1993. The Gardeners Guide To South African Plants,
Cape Town, Tafelberg Publishers.
- Browse, P. M., 1979. Plant Propagation, Hong Kong, Reed International
- Burrows, J. E. 1990. South African Ferns and Fern Allies, Sandton,
Mhlonishwa D Dlamini and Thompson T Mutshinyalo
Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden