Tree Fern Apical Temperatures at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh


  • Alastair Wardlaw
  • Louise Galloway Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
  • Andrew Ensoll Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh



Tree ferns are difficult to maintain out of doors in the British Isles except in western localities, where winter temperatures are moderated by the North Atlantic Drift, or in places where buildings provide a clement microclimate. The present study of tree-fern apical temperatures during winter was carried out on five trunked specimens of Dicksonia antarctica that had been grown satisfactorily out of doors for several years, while planted in the ground of a courtyard at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). The plants were never wrapped or otherwise protected with thermal insulation during the winter months. An electric thermometer was inserted into the apical cleft of each plant in November 2003, and weekly readings of minimum and maximum temperature taken until April 2004. The ambient temperature of the air in the courtyard was similarly recorded and compared with the screen and grass temperatures at the RBGE weather station in the main botanic garden.

The lowest grass and screen temperatures were respectively -11.2°C and -7.1°C, whereas the lowest courtyard and fern-apical temperatures were respectively -3.2°C and -0.8°C. Thus in the coldest period of that winter there was over 10°C difference in temperature between ground level in the main garden and a tree fern apical cleft in the sheltered courtyard.

The tree ferns were not noticeably damaged by exposure of the apical cleft region to just below freezing point on a few occasions and the fronds stayed green. The five individual plants differed considerably in trunk height, diameter and volume. Regression analysis revealed that there was a significantly increasing thermal-insulating effect in the apical cleft associated with larger trunk diameters and volumes.

The RBGE weather station temperatures during the winter of 2003-4 were unexceptional when compared with records from the previous 19 years. Thus the data from 2003-4 may be taken as representing a typical recent winter for this Edinburgh location.

This study highlights the benefits of having detailed temperature measurements when assessing the winter-protective capabilities of a particular micro—environment for a semi-hardy species such as D. antarctica.

Author Biographies

Alastair Wardlaw

Alastair Wardlaw is holder of the NCCPG National Collection of British Ferns and recent past-President of the British Pteridological Society

Louise Galloway, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Louise Galloway is Indoor Department Supervisor at RBGE

Andrew Ensoll, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Andrew Ensoll is a Senior Horticulturist at RBGE where he is responsible for the fern collection


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How to Cite

Wardlaw, A., Galloway, L., & Ensoll, A. (2005). Tree Fern Apical Temperatures at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Sibbaldia: The International Journal of Botanic Garden Horticulture, (3), 17–26.