The ‘silver fern’ Cyathea dealbata – ponga in te reo Māori – is a species of tree fern only found in New Zealand. This distinctly New Zealand symbol is considered a badge of honour by the people, products and services of our country that carry it.
According to Māori legend, the silver fern once lived in the sea. It was asked to come and live in the forest to guide the Māori people.
The hunters and warriors used the silver underside of the fern leaves to find their way home. When bent over, the fronds would catch the moonlight and shine a path through the forest.
The Silver Fern is the national emblem of New Zealand and has been the symbol of New Zealand’s national rugby team since the 1880s and is now proudly worn by all our top athletes.
Tourism New Zealand and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) have adopted the silver fern as the country of origin symbol for New Zealand.
New Zealand’s national museum ( Te Papa ) includes a good write up of this history here which covers how baked into the New Zealand culture the Silver Fern is. With wikipedia providing additional insight on the scientific classification.
The Silver Fern has also caused controversy with the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) attempting to trademark usage of it; requiring concerned business leaders to revoke the trademark thus protecting its usage for all New Zealanders. We cover this in more detail here
The New Zealand national Netball team are named the ‘Silver Ferns’ The New Zealand women’s rugby team is known as the ‘Black Ferns’, a composite of All Blacks and Silver Ferns. Although they wear a silver fern on their jersey, the name Black Ferns actually refers to the black tree fern (mamaku) the tallest tree fern in New Zealand.
The ancient fern has a history rich in symbolism often symbolizing eternal youth. To the indigenous Maori of New Zealand, the fern represented new life and new beginnings.