The king fern is a magnificent plant. Its glossy fronds grow up to three metres long and a metre wide. It looks rather like a big tree fern without a trunk. The king fern belongs to a tropical family and only grows in lowland forest from Kaitaia to the Bay of Plenty.

Once it was very common and its large, starchy root was an important food for Maori in pre-European times. But now it has been decimated by pigs, which dig up and eat the roots, and by deer and goats which browse the fronds. King ferns have become very rare.

So it was exciting to find a population of king ferns in a gully in the Aongatete forest. Small ferns were clinging to the near-vertical sides of the cliff and some bigger ferns were growing at its base, precariously protected by a tangle of vegetation and fallen trees.

King Fern - The Elms Mission Station, Tauranga

King Fern – The Elms Mission Station, Tauranga

A number of vulnerable and rare plants like raukawa and red-flowered tree rata grow in the lowland forest at Aongatete. We are glad to see deer and pig hunters who can help to protect them, but please leave your dogs at home or make sure they are trained not to kill the weka we recently released into the forest.

This photograph was taken amongst the native trees beside the Mission House in Tauranga, where there is a fine grove of king ferns.