Updated: Apr 12
The concept of an unfurling fern frond is present in many countries. In New Zealand, the most notable example of it is the Koru, or unfurling frond of the silver fern.
Silver Fern Origins
The 'silver fern', or 'ponga' in Maori, is a species of medium-sized tree fern, endemic to New Zealand. They are called silver ferns since their mature fronds have an under-surface of silver-white coloring. The fronds are long and slender and reach up to 3 meters in length. They often form a distinctive spiraling pattern. The plant can grow up to 10 meters in height and prefers shaded, moist areas such as forests and gullies.
Silver fern arrived in New Zealand's history during the Pliocene epoch around 5 - 1.8 million years ago. It is present on the main islands of New Zealand and absent from the west and south regions of the South Island. It thrives in dry conditions and grows well in drained humus and sub-canopy areas of drier forests. It does best when sheltered from winds and when protected from frost.
As a symbol, the fern is associated with the country both overseas and by New Zealanders themselves.
Symbolism and Use in Culture
Silver fern has significant cultural importance in New Zealand. Maori people have used it for various purposes for centuries and it is often seen in Maori art. The fern's distinctive shape is used in logos and symbols of many New Zealand organizations and sports teams.
Silver fern's frond, or Koru, symbolizes life, growth, strength, and peace. To Pākehā (New Zealanders of non-Māori descent), the fern symbolized their sense of attachment to their homeland.
Koru's circular shape signifies the perpetual movement of life forward while its inward coil gives a sense of return to the origin. Its shape conveys ideas of movement, creation, renewal, and enlightenment. The elegant shape of the fronds indicated strength, stubborn resistance, and enduring power.
In the context of personal development and coaching, the koru is sometimes used as a symbol of transformation. This is because the fern frond starts tightly coiled and gradually unfurls as it grows, much like how people can develop and change over time.
Other common symbolisms and meanings of Koru include:
In a loving relationship, koru represents the purity of love with a family.
In Hawaiian, it symbolizes the human navel, the center of our birth.
In other uses, it often represents new creations such as arts or new book publications.
Koru is the Maori word for 'loop'.
Historical Uses of Koru and Silver Fern
It was during the Second Boer War that the silver fern was first used by New Zealand Army. It was then used by the New Zealand Expeditionary Force during both world wars. All graves of fallen New Zealand soldiers of the Commonwealth had the silver fern engraved on their tombstones.
Since then, there have been many other uses of silver fern within the country:
Silver fern has been a New Zealand military symbol, being part of the logo of the New Zealand Defense Force.
All Whites, the New Zealand men's national football team, have silver fern printed on their logo.
Netball silver ferns, the New Zealand national netball team, also known as kiwi ferns, wear uniforms with silver ferns printed on the front.
All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby union team, uses silver fern flags as part of their official merchandise.
Silver fern has been associated with New Zealand’s national identity since the 1880s. The fern is printed on passport profiles and is sometimes used as suggestions for flag designs. As such, silver fern flag may be used as an unofficial New Zealand flag.
Besides its cultural significance, the silver fern has practical uses as well. Its frond, or Koru, is used to make baskets, ropes, and thatching for roofs. The fern's rootstock has also been used medicinally by Maori people to treat various ailments. Also, Koru's design is used in Maori carvings, art, and tattooing.
Examples of Koru and Fern Usages
Use in ornament makings:
Two Korus in a Heart shape signify peace, tranquility, positive change, and new beginnings. They give a strong sense of regrowth or new beginnings and new journeys. The fern frond as it opens brings new life and purity to the world. It represents the coming together of people in harmony.
Use in company logos:
Since 1973, the koru symbol has been integrated into Air New Zealand's company logo. Consisting of a letter and a symbol, it reflects the company’s important values and also symbolizes the beauty and uniqueness of New Zealand. The emblem symbolizes affection for this country, culture, and people and reflects its spirit and beauty.
The silver fern is a unique and important part of New Zealand's natural and cultural heritage.
The silver fern's unfurling frond, named Koru, has a special place in New Zealand art and culture. As a symbol of growth, new beginnings, and the circle of life, koru is an important symbol in Maori culture and is often used in traditional art and design.
In addition to its cultural significance, the koru has also been used as a symbol in various contexts beyond New Zealand. For example, it is sometimes used in corporate branding and logos to represent growth, progress, and vitality.
Overall, the koru is a powerful symbol that can represent a variety of meanings and concepts, depending on the context and culture in which it is used.