With graceful, lush fronds arching above their trunks, tree ferns are not common in the Ballarat district.
They occur in a few places in the Wombat Forest, at Mt Cole and in the Otway Ranges. Occurrences closer to Ballarat are few.
One of these occurrences was visited recently to assess the identity of the small population.
Tree fern identity is not particularly difficult once the key features are known.
Locally, we have just two species: the soft tree fern and the rough tree fern.
The names are quite useful, referring to the bases of the fronds – one has short prickles on the stem and the other is smooth.
Confusion had arisen about the identity of a group of tree ferns not far from Ballarat. There are fewer than 10 specimens in a shallow gully receiving permanent moisture. Some plant lists for this locality note one species, while another plant list mentions the other.
A recent visit found that both local tree fern species are present at this site.
Some plants are soft tree ferns, while others are rough tree ferns. The conditions clearly suit them both.
At one point the two species grow side by side, so the differences in the fronds can be clearly seen and studied.
While similar at first glance – with attractive arching and spreading fronds more than a metre long – the formation of the fronds is subtly different.
Tree ferns remain popular in home gardens, although their popularity has declined since summers have become drier and hotter.
The species most often offered for sale is the soft tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica). This one is more readily grown in gardens than the rough tree fern (Cyathea australis).
In nature, however, it is the rough tree fern that is more likely to be found in the Ballarat district, with the soft tree fern mostly confined to the higher rainfall sheltered forest gullies.
Unfortunately, tree ferns are occasionally stolen from forests, so the location of the ferns mentioned above has not been disclosed.
The Ballarat district hosts six different sorts of cuckoos each year.
All are migrants, returning in springtime.
Five of these have been noted in the last few weeks. In the order of their sightings this season, these are the fan-tailed cuckoo, Horsfield’s bronze cuckoo, pallid cuckoo, black-eared cuckoo and shining bronze cuckoo.
All have their distinctive, oft-repeated whistling calls that will be prominent in the district for the next few months.
The black-eared cuckoo is scarcer than the other four.