Filicium decipiens: Fern tree

Family: Sapindaceae
Common name: Fern tree, Japanese fern tree, Ferntree, Fern leaf tree, Pihimbiya, Thika palm, Soapberry

An obedient, non-fussy tree with a well-rounded crown, Fern trees are ideal trees for your gardens and landscaped areas. It only grows to a height of 10-12 meters with a beautifully branched trunk that is fissured and flaky especially in older trees.

The crown is uniformly rounded, almost symmetrical staying within its allocated area in a garden or a sidewalk. Leaves are very showy, dark green, and glossy with a wavy margin.

Fern tree leaves are opposite, sometimes alternate, thin and long, without any petiole connecting them to the stem. A very unique feature of this tree is the small wings on either side of the leaf spines, where the leaflets are borne.

Though they are mostly grown as ornamental trees because of their foliage, Fern trees also produce small white flowers in small bunches. But they are quite inconspicuous and hidden inside the thick leaves. Once pollinated, these flowers produce small green rounded fruits that turn purple when ripe.

Fern trees are native to Srilanka and Southern India but are now grown in countries all over the world, especially warm-weathered countries. Fern trees are slow-growing and need very little maintenance. They can withstand drought, salinity, poor soil conditions, temperature fluctuations, and pest infestations.

Since the fruits are edible and preferred by small birds, they are dispersed far and wide, thus taking over new territories quickly. Hence Fern trees are considered invasive in some parts of the world, but not a major nuisance since they can be hand-plucked when the trees are small.

Some people might be allergic to the flowers, which has to be a major while using them in indoor spaces.

Fern roots are simple, and their compact growth makes them ideal for terrace balconies and partially shaded areas where these trees can grow and flourish, bringing a tropical feel to the space. The large, fern-like leaves stay evergreen, giving the tree its name Fern tree.

The wood of the tree is quite sturdy and can be used for making small wooden implements and handles.

Propagation is through seeds.