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Ferns are abundant in our New Zealand landscape, making them a major part of our ecosystems.

Have a look at some of the historical and cultural aspects of ferns in New Zealand, take a look at botanists past and present as they explore the science of ferns.

1753 - Linnaeus

Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus publishes Systema Naturae detailing his classification system based on two-part naming (binomial nomenclature). Daniel Solander studies under Linnaeus before travelling to England in 1759.

1769 - Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander

Banks and Solander, onboard James Cook’s Endeavour, reach New Zealand. They collect vast quantities of specimens, including 360 species of plants, none of which have been recorded by Europeans before, in the first scientific study of New Zealand’s natural history.

1834 - William Colenso

William Colenso, a printer for the Church Missionary Society, arrives in New Zealand. He has a keen interest in botany and makes many journeys on the North Island’s east coast. He collects over a thousand specimens. His herbarium is now part of the Te Papa collection.

1843 - Surviving on ferns

Thomas Brunner, a surveyor for the New Zealand Company, explores the South Island with the help of Māori guides. Bad weather and a lack of birds to snare mean Brunner and company are forced to live off ferns for many weeks.

1855 - Pteridomania

Ferns are extremely popular during the Victorian era. The fern craze starts to gather momentum in England during the 1840s, by 1855 the term ‘pteridomania’ (meaning fern madness) is coined. Exotic ferns are sought after.

1880 - The ‘blue books’

HB Dobbie, a fern enthusiast, produces New Zealand Ferns. These books have full-sized, white silhouettes of ferns on a blue background and are known as the ‘blue books’. They are made using an early form of photography called the cyanotype process.

1884 - The New Zealand Natives

The New Zealand Natives, our first rugby team to play overseas (in Australia), wears a gold fern on a dark blue shirt

1888 - The silver fern emblem

The New Zealand Natives rugby team go on tour to the UK. They wear a black shirt with a silver fern emblem.

1892 - Official emblem

The New Zealand Rugby Football Union is established. They decide that the official uniform is a white fern on a black jersey.

1893 - Fernleaf butter

The New Zealand Dairy Board registers the trademark ‘Fern Leaf’ with a picture of a fern for use on butter and cheese.

1921 - HB Dobbie

HB Dobbie publishes his book New Zealand Ferns. It is an entirely different book from the one he published in 1880. This new book contains good photographs of fern specimens, as well as details on collection and cultivation. It is available for the next 70 years.

1965 - Scanning electron microscope

The Cambridge Instrument Co (UK) is the first to market the scanning electron microscope commercially. The advent of this technology generates new interest in using spores to help classify ferns.

1967 - Decimal currency

Decimal currency first appears in circulation. The 1 cent coin features a stylised fern leaf enclosing the figure 1, and the 20 cent coin features a Kiwi facing right and a fern bush with the figure 20.

1989 - Patrick Brownsey

Patrick Brownsey and John C Smith-Dodsworth publish New Zealand Ferns and Allied Plants. This becomes the definitive reference book on New Zealand ferns.

1991 - A spore atlas

A spore atlas of New Zealand ferns and fern allies by Mark Large is published. This gives a comprehensive account of spore morphology for all species of ferns and fern allies growing in New Zealand.

1990s - Molecular analysis of fern DNA

DNA sequencing becomes useful for plant systematists. The initial focus is on a single chloroplast gene, rbcL, used to determine plant relationships. When the molecular (DNA) data is combined with morphological studies, the effect on plant systematics is profound.

2010 - NZ Virtual Herbarium (NZVH)

This online botanical information resource consolidates all data from participating New Zealand herbaria into a single access point. A great advantage over other plant information systems is that it is based on scientifically verifiable herbarium specimens.

    Published 24 September 2010 Referencing Hub articles