Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

New Zealand: Little hard fern koru

with 60 comments

Little Hard Fern Koru 4658

Click for greater clarity, especially in the little hairs.

Now that I’ve shown you a little (and only a little) of what’s been going on in springtime Austin, here comes a second round of pictures from my February trip to scenic New Zealand.

At the Christchurch Botanic Gardens on February 14th I photographed this koru (the Māori word for the curled shoot of a fern) on what’s called a little hard fern, Antarctic hard fern, alpine hard fern, or alpine water fern, whose scientific name is Blechnum penna-marina. The species part of the name is Latin for ‘sea feather,’ but that refers to the plant as a whole rather than to this koru, which I think people are more likely to liken to the scroll on a violin, even if no violin scroll has smaller scrolls within it the way this fern does.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 8, 2015 at 5:28 AM

60 Responses

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  1. Gorgeous!


    April 8, 2015 at 5:29 AM

  2. Exquisite. There’s no way any part of that should be called ‘blech’.


    April 8, 2015 at 6:07 AM

    • I have the same feeling about the word blog. I wish these collections of articles we write could have a more euphonious name; maybe we should hold a contest to pick one.

      As for Blechnum, I originally assumed it comes from the name of a botanist but then I read that it’s from an ancient Greek word designating a type of fern, blechnon, where the ch was pronounced like the ch in German at the end of Bach.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 8, 2015 at 7:13 AM

      • Hmm.. blog is rather too close to the word bog aka dunny.


        April 8, 2015 at 8:02 AM

        • I didn’t know about the New Zealand sense of bog, but it’s one more reason to dislike the similar-sounding blog. At the same time, I don’t want to get bogged down in my dislike of the word.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 8, 2015 at 8:19 AM

          • Perhaps you can turn your dislike to the equally odd word, vlog.


            April 8, 2015 at 8:25 AM

            • That’s another new one for me. I see it’s a portmanteau of video and blog. As blog is already a portmanteau of web and log, vlog is a three-element portmanteau.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 8, 2015 at 8:39 AM

  3. Like the fiddleheads I ate in Maine a few years ago.

    Jim in IA

    April 8, 2015 at 7:19 AM

  4. Intriguingly lovely…


    April 8, 2015 at 7:20 AM

  5. Great photograph. I love these ferns 🙂


    April 8, 2015 at 7:21 AM

  6. I really like this one Steve … a winner, to be sure. Wow … the more I look, the more I like. Pattern, color, and the synergy of both. Wonderful. The reference to sea feather must be to a member of the Echinoderm class of Crinoids. The sea lilies or feather stars. D

    Pairodox Farm

    April 8, 2015 at 9:43 AM

    • I was happy with this one too, D. I’d hoped to get pictures of korus from some of the tree ferns, but the ones that came my way weren’t at a good angle or didn’t have good light or a good background. This photograph makes up for those failures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 8, 2015 at 9:52 AM

  7. Fabulous!


    April 8, 2015 at 11:15 AM

  8. did you see any tree fern corus? i see them in mindo at my friends’ finca, and i often ponder them as culinary options…

    • I did see tree fern korus and I was hoping to get good photographs of a few, but the angle of view or the lighting or the background was bad each time, so I never got a picture that was up to par. The koru in today’s post was small, but it was as intricate as I could want. Even in the low light and the consequent large aperture of f/4 I managed to keep the key parts of the scrolls in focus, so I was happy.

      Have you drawn or painted any of the tree ferns in Mindo (or elsewhere)?

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 8, 2015 at 12:09 PM

  9. You *know*, of course, that now I’m designing just such a violin in my imagination. What a cool shot! Ferns are fabulous.

    I assume, given your love of all things vegetal, language, science, etc, etc, that you’ve read at least some of Oliver Sacks’s wonderful work on ferns and cycads. [I’m so very sorry that he’s in the terminal phase of his cancer, but no one does it with more vigor, grace, and mindfulness than that man.] I grew up among ferns and their ilk, of course, back in our mutual NW stomping grounds, but despite my native love for them, never had quite the deep appreciation of them that Sacks gave me.

    Happy April!


    April 8, 2015 at 1:55 PM

    • Happy April, K.I., a month that may have been named for the goddess Aphrodite.

      You’ve got the artistic skills to take that fantasy violin out of your imagination and make it visible to the rest of us. If you do, and if you post a picture online, please let me know and I’ll point people to it.

      I’ll confess I didn’t know about Oliver Sacks’s work on ferns and cycads, but at


      I found a five-minute interview with him on that subject from 2002.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 8, 2015 at 2:13 PM

    • By the way, if you ever get a chance to visit New Zealand, I know you’ll find it wonderfully inspirational for yourself and your art.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 8, 2015 at 2:17 PM

  10. What a great shot – all those lovely fronds curled up like hairy caterpillars ready to spring forth!


    April 8, 2015 at 2:21 PM

  11. When I first saw the photo, I thought it was a caterpillar that used to give us rashes. I used to harvest a type of caterpillar for food some as a child and if we were not careful, we would touch the nasty ones and end up with itchy rashes. It is that reason alone that makes me think that the koru is not very pretty 😦

    Zambian Lady

    April 8, 2015 at 3:09 PM

    • I can see where that association with itchy-rash-causing caterpillars would color your view of this fern’s koru. Let’s hope that with time you can come to see the fern for what it is and appreciate its beauty.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 8, 2015 at 4:04 PM

  12. Very nice. Some korus can be eaten and are a delicacy for the Maori. It also forms a special motif with their art work and sculptures.

    Raewyn's Photos

    April 8, 2015 at 4:08 PM

    • I’d read that some korus are edible but unfortunately I never got a chance to try any. I did see examples of koru motifs (and more generally fern motifs) in artwork while I was there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 8, 2015 at 4:24 PM

  13. A fascinating fiddlehead. The koru is, as Raewyn said, one of the main inspirations for Maori art, and is often reflected in the traditional greenstone (jade) carvings. I have several such pendants–one is only supposed to wear one that was given as a gift, not bought for oneself.


    April 8, 2015 at 11:20 PM

    • Eve did buy some greenstone pendants for herself. From what you’ve said, that may not be kosher, but c’est la vie.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 9, 2015 at 6:08 AM

  14. This is a little nature’s wonder – and the photo with that blurry background is perfect 🙂


    April 9, 2015 at 3:56 PM

    • Agreed: these fern spirals are a wonder of nature. There wasn’t a lot of light, so the wide aperture I had to use accounted for the pleasingly out-of-focus background.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 9, 2015 at 3:58 PM

  15. It always was such pleasure to see our wood ferns emerging in spring. We never ate the fiddleheads, since my mother was intent on having ferns alongside the house through the summer, but some of my grandmother’s neighbors gathered and cooked them. In fact, for many years I thought “fiddlehead” was a generic term for ferns.

    It’s quite amazing to see a fern looking so stiff and bristly, as this one does. Just a day or so before you posted this, the American Fern Society featured a rare Texas fern in their daily post. If you don’t already have “The Ferns & Lycophytes of Texas” in your bookmarks, it’s a wonderful site: well-written and easy to navigate.


    April 10, 2015 at 6:59 AM

    • I have to confess I’ve never eaten a fiddlehead of any sort. Let’s hope I can remedy that deficiency.

      This little hard fern koru looks stiff and bristly, I’ll grant you, but I don’t think it was. Truth is, I don’t know if I touched it, and if I did I don’t remember how it felt. I wish I could drive back over in 15 minutes and find out, but half a world lies between.

      Thanks for the link to Ferns of Texas, a site I didn’t know about (like the subject itself, of which I’m almost totally ignorant). What a surprise to see a Blechnum right here in central Texas. The map marks it for Llano County, which I was in three days ago, though not in any places conducive to ferns.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 10, 2015 at 8:10 AM

      • Our local farmer’s market usually has fiddleheads at one or two vendors and a nearby neighborhood fruit and vegetable store does as well, but like you I have yet to eat one. I hear they are good sauteed in butter and garlic.

        Steve Gingold

        April 11, 2015 at 4:21 AM

        • Given that they’re for sale in several places near you, we look forward to your culinary review featuring filet of fiddlehead.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 11, 2015 at 8:26 AM

  16. This is a very nice image, Steve. I really like how you got the frond so parallel and all the little spirals are shown so well.

    Steve Gingold

    April 11, 2015 at 4:23 AM

    • I impressed myself by getting as much in focus as I did at f/4. That wide of an aperture was predictably good at neutralizing background details.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 11, 2015 at 8:14 AM

  17. Reblogged this on Effervescent Francois! and commented:
    ever seen this?


    April 14, 2015 at 12:47 AM

  18. That’s an amazing capture!

    Traveling Rockhopper

    December 1, 2015 at 8:55 AM

    • Thanks. I was pleased that I managed to keep so much detail sharp with a wide aperture of f/4, which I needed because the fern was in the shade.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 1, 2015 at 9:01 AM

  19. There’s always so much happening at any given second, like this beautiful, intricate frond unfurling, and it’s wonderful to witness it in person. But this particular shot made me think, that I also appreciate people who notice such things, skillfully record it, compose a shot, and share it. So thanks!

    Robert Parker Teel

    June 4, 2017 at 12:04 PM

    • You’re most welcome. There wasn’t a lot of light, and as I recall (I’m away from Austin) I had to use a wide aperture like f/4 and was surprised I managed to get so much in focus. Thanks for your appreciation.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 5, 2017 at 12:00 AM

  20. […] is what the Māori call the fiddleheads on ferns. (Close individual koru portraits appeared here in 2015 and […]

  21. That’s absolutely gorgeous.


    March 10, 2022 at 4:21 PM

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