What is Cibotium?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 11 January 2019
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Cibotium is a tropical fern genus found in several regions around the Pacific and Indian Oceans. There are an estimated 11 species in this genus of tree ferns, although some researchers have suggested that ferns treated as different species in different locations may actually be the same species. Several members of the genus are cultivated by gardeners interested in growing ferns, and one, C. barometz, is used in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is believed to benefit the kidneys and liver.

Members of this genus grow to varying heights, producing long, drooping fronds from a central trunk. They require moist, well-drained soil and high humidity like that found in the tropics. They prefer areas with indirect to filtered light and low wind, mimicking the conditions of the forest understory. In their native habitat, Cibotium ferns play an important role in forest ecology, offering habitat to animals and growing across the forest floor to take advantage of nutrients left behind by decaying organic material.

Various species can be found in Central America and parts of Mexico, Hawaii, and Southeast Asia, including areas like China and the Philippines. Conservationists are concerned about several species with limited ranges, as these species are at risk from development and invasive species. Introduced ferns are a particular problem in Hawaii, where native plants have evolved few methods for resisting non-native fern species. Ferns imported from regions like Australia grow quickly and aggressively, pushing out Cibotium ferns.


C. glaucum, C. chamissoi, and C. menziesii are all cultivated as ornamental plants outside their native range. These species are remarkably cold tolerant and can handle cool conditions right down to freezing, although if the weather gets much colder, the ferns will need to be wrapped for protection. People interested in growing these ferns should be able to find Cibotium specimens at nurseries and they can also order them through mail order catalogs. It is important to avoid exposing the ferns to too much sun, as their leaves can be burned.

Gou jii or hairy fern, as C. barometz is known, is cultivated in parts of China for use in the production of medicine. It is readily available in dried form through shops with supplies of traditional Chinese herbs. Such herbs should be taken under the supervision of an herbalist and with the approval of a doctor. Although there are no known contraindications for taking this Cibotium species, consulting a physician is advised before adding dietary supplements or making changes to medical treatment.



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