Cyathea - Cyatheaceae

Cyathea capensis (L.f.) Sm.

Photo: P. Ballings

Photo: P. Ballings






Alsophila capensis (L.f.) J. Sm.
Hemitelia capensis (L.f.) Kaulf.
Polypodium capense L.f.
Trichomanes incisum Thunb.
Cyathea riparia Willd.

Common name

Forest tree fern


Tree fern. Caudex up to 4.5 m × 20-25 cm, crowned with a 'nest of moss-like' aphlebia (a pair of finely divided and much reduced pinnae at the base of the stipe). Fronds herbaceous. Stem without spines. Stipe up to 50 cm long, light brown, set with dark brown basal scales; scales 10 mm long, dark, glossy, lanceolate, margin pale, irregularly cut, apex bristle like. Lamina up to 2m × 0.8m, deeply 3-pinnatifid, elliptic in outline. Ultimate lobes narrowly oblong-falcate, margins toothed, apex acute, lower surface with few pale, thin bullate scales set along the costules. Sori round, one per lobe, set adjacent to the costule, c. 1 mm diameter; indusium asymmetric, variable, scale like, attached on one side of the sorus, often reduced or even absent.


Recognisable by the 'nest' of moss-like modified pinnules in the crown of the stem Rare fern, endemic to the sub region.
Note: Roux (2009) also records this species for Tanzania, Edwards (2005, F.T.E.A.) notes that C. capensis (L.f.) Sm. has never been found north of Mt. Mlanje. I follow F.T.E.A. and have removed Tanzania from the distribution in Africa.


capensis: first collected in the Cape by C. Thunberg, a Swedish botanist.


Shaded, moist ravines on mountain slopes or in temperate forest.

Distribution worldwide

Distribution in Africa

Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe.

Growth form



  • Burrows, J.E. (1990) Southern African Ferns and Fern Allies. Frandsen, Sandton. Page 88. (Includes a picture).
  • Crouch, N.R., Klopper, R.R., Burrows, J.E. & Burrows, S.M. (2011) Ferns of Southern Africa, A comprehensive guide. Struik Nature. Pages 272 - 273. (Includes a picture).
  • Edwards, Peter J. (2005) Cyatheaceae.Flora of Tropical East Africa, Page 14. Note: C. capensis is not found north of Mt Mlanja.
  • Jacobsen, W.B.G. (1983) The Ferns and Fern Allies of Southern Africa. Butterworths, Durban and Pretoria. Pages 202 - 203. As Alsophila capensis (L. f. ) J. Sm. (Includes a picture).
  • Roux, J.P. (2001) Conspectus of Southern African Pteridophyta.Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report, 13 Page 86. (Includes a picture).
  • Roux, J.P. (2009) Synopsis of the Lycopodiophyta and Pteridophyta of Africa, Madagascar and neighbouring islands. Strelitzia 23, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria. Page 62. As Alsophila capensis (L.f.)J.Sm.
  • Schelpe, E.A.C.L.E. (1970) Pteridophyta.Flora Zambesiaca, 0 Pages 74 - 75. (Includes a picture).