August in the hills with Michele Dickson and Chris Horne
Lastreopsis velutina, , velvet fern
Lastreopsis velutina is one of four similar-looking ferns in the Lastreopsis genus, within the large fern family Dryopteridaceae. It is notable for the unmistakable velvet feel of the fronds which distinguishes it from the other three species.
For general comments about ferns, see Asplenium oblongifolium in the October 2015 Tramper, and a description of the life cycle of ferns in Asplenium bulbiferum, in the December 2015 Tramper.
Origin of the botanical name
The name Lastreopsis is derived from lastrea, a fern known to the ancient Greeks, and opsis meaning ‘looks like’. Velutina means ‘velvety’. Lastrea was named after Austrian botanist Charles Jean Louis Delastre (1792-1859).
Distribution and habitat
Velvet fern is endemic, found on Te Ika a Māui/ North Island and from Cape Farewell to Dunedin on Te Waipounamu/South Island. Look for velvet fern in drier coastal and lowland forest. It is less common than the other Lastreopsis species.
Velvet fern is a terrestrial fern with erect, noncreeping scaly rhizomes and erect stalks/stipes, of ten tuf ted, 15-40 cm long. The thin, dark brownish-green fronds are broadly oval, 15-55 cm x 15-45 cm, and are covered on all surfaces in numerous tiny soft reddish-brown hairs, giving the velvet feel. There are three to four pinnae or frond segments, each divided into smaller pinnae. The primary or lower pinnae of the fronds are stalked, and the lowest of the pair of secondary pinnae are particularly elongated downwards, creating the angled appearance of the whole frond. The final segments are blunt-ended.
When mature, clusters of sporangia make up the round sori on the underside of the fronds. These are seen in one row either side of the midrib away from pinna margins. At first they are covered by a kidney-shaped covering/indusium which falls off as the spores ripen and then spread by the wind.
Where to find Lastreopsis velutina?
You can see velvet fern in a few western areas of Wellington - Huntleigh Park, Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush, and some pockets of bush at Makara. Look for it on the Kohekohe Loop Track, Paekākāriki and Barry Hadfield Nīkau Scenic Reserve, Paraparaumu. It also occurs in Akatarawa Forest and the Tararua, Remutaka and Aorangi ranges.