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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Dicksonia antarctica

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas OCTOBER. 04, 2020

[60-365] 4th. October 2020- Dicksonia antarctica, the soft tree fern or man fern, is a species of evergreen tree fern native to eastern Australia, ranging from south-east Queensland, coastal New South Wales and Victoria to Tasmania. (Wikipedia)

You can buy them quite large but mine is a tiddler, and they can grow up to 49 feet or 15 metres. That is taller than my house but will take a few years yet. It is all a long term plan to deal with possible sea level rise. We live almost at sea level so in twenty to thirty years time I can climb up it in an emergency to escape the rising seas. They don't even reproduce until they are twenty, so I will not be hearing the patter of tiny fronds for a while yet. Don't you love the word fronds?

The soft tree fern can be used as a food source, with the pith of the plant being eaten either cooked or raw. It is a good source of starch.

The 1889 book 'The Useful Native Plants of Australia records that "The pulp of the top of the trunk is full of starch, and is eaten by the aboriginals [sic.] both raw and roasted. The native blacks [sic.] of the colony used to split open about a foot and a-half of the top of the trunk, and take out the heart, in substance resembling a Swedish turnip, and of the thickness of a man's arm. This they either roasted in the ashes, or ate as bread; but it is too bitter and astringent to suit an English palate. (Wikipedia)

That's the English palate that gave the world Non-brewed Condiment, probably the bitterest and most astringent substance on Earth. Meanwhile we were also working on the Thai green curry pie, cheese string and Marmite. We English end up putting everything in a pie, and I'm not even English

How tastes changed. Does anyone remember those early cookery programmes from the sixties when the star cook, usually dressed in a ball gown would advise great caution when introducing garlic, which was a vegetable that you literally did not eat but sliced open, held with a glove, and wiped around the bowl. Then presumably you threw it away, the garlic, or sometimes even the bowl if you wiped too hard. And two celebrities on prime time were actually allowed to be called Fanny and Johnny. If you have literally no idea what I am blathering on about look for Fanny Craddock on Youtube. You might need your safety filter switched off first. And don't just type in Fanny, just warning you there, make sure you add the Craddock or I am not responsible for the consequences.

But I digress.

So who was Dickson?

James (Jacobus) J. Dickson (1738–1822) was a Scottish nurseryman, plant collector, botanist and mycologist. Between 1785 and 1801 he published his Fasciculus plantarum cryptogamicarum Britanniae, (a catchy little title, I bet it flew off the shelves) a four-volume work (in the days when only one volume could probably stun an ox, thanks for that phrase Laurie Anderson)in which he published over 400 species of algae and fungi that occur in the British Isles. He is also the author of Collection of Dried Plants, Named on the Authority of the Linnaean Herbarium and Other Original Collections. (He obviously had not studied marketing though, I mean this was before copy and paste, so everyone had to keep writing that down)The plant genus Dicksonia is named after him.

He was born at Kirke House, Traquair, Peeblesshire, of poor parents, (what is this "born of poor parents" you hear everywhere now, like a badge of honour. Even all the staff at the BBC all twenty thousand of them apparently were all "born of poor parents") and began life in the gardens of the Earl of Traquair. While still young he went to Jeffery's nursery-garden at Brompton, and in 1772 started in business for himself in Covent Garden. Dickson made several tours in the Scottish Highlands in search of plants between 1785 and 1791, that of 1789 being in company with Mungo Park, whose sister became his second wife ( hang on, what happened to the first one? Suddenly he's on his second?). (Wikipedia)

But he never found anything, just rocks and sheep. There was some heather but that's about it and heather doesn't count, nothing, unless you count the lesser spotted Sporran Herb, the Cranachan Moss, the Haggis Hair Fern and the Cullen Skink which isn't even a plant but a small furry mammal that evolved inside a Sporran. He didn't even find the exotically named Dicksonia antarctica, that was described by Charles Louis L'Héritier de Brutelle. I can't even find out who found it out, so presumably it came back as a job lot from some plant hunter down under and ended up on Charles Louis's desk. He must have felt sorry for Dickson not finding anything interesting and decided to make his day.

I almost forgot, it's also called the man fern. Now obviously it was all men finding things back then, but that can't be it or everything would be called the man something so why Man fern?

Here are some judiciously edited sentences from the wikipedia description in no particular order. Maybe there are some clues.

They are very hairy at the base........and consist of an erect rhizome.....the shapes of the stems vary as some grow curved... The "trunk" is merely the decaying remains of earlier growth.....

I think that is enough of that thank you very much.

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