The Silver Fern is widely representative of New Zealand and New Zealanders. It is a powerful and emotional symbol of inspiration and one that all Kiwis can relate to.
The Silver Fern image is inspired by the frond of the New Zealand tree fern, Cyathea Dealbata (“Ponga” in Māori). The fronds are dark green on the upper side and silver underneath. The underside glows brightly in moonlight, providing excellent track markers in New Zealand’s native forests. It was often used by Māori as bedding because of the thin texture of the ‘hairs’.
It’s no surprise that the Silver Fern symbol is widely used in sport, given New Zealand’s passion for and commitment to sport. However, it is misleading to regard it as merely a sports symbol; it pervades the imagery of all New Zealand and has inspired New Zealanders in all aspects of their lives… from the famous New Zealand export, Fernleaf Butter”, the badges of most New Zealand Army units, Neil Dawson’s Civic Square sculpture in Wellington, Katerina Nehua’s swimming costume for endurance swimming (1904 -1948) to our National netball team, “The Silver Ferns”.
It has played an inspirational role for the military. New Zealand Army contingents, who saw overseas service in the South African War of 1899-1902, are understood to have worn fern leaf badges. The fern leaf had become the Army’s predominant badge by World War I.
And, of course, the Silver Fern is the leading symbol in New Zealand’s national game, rugby. One of New Zealand’s favourite icons is its rugby team, the All Blacks. Their black uniform with the Silver Fern has become a national symbol. It’s not known why black with a Silver Fern was first chosen. Our first rugby team to play overseas wore dark blue with a gold fern. However, by the time the 1888/89 “Natives” headed overseas, they were wearing black with silver. A black and white uniform became official when the New Zealand Rugby Union was established in 1892. By 1901 the white knickerbockers were replaced with black, creating the all black uniform worn by the 1905-06 “Originals”. They were the first team to be called the “All Blacks”.
Thanks largely to the All Blacks, black and white have become New Zealand’s national colours and the Silver Fern is now a hugely popular national symbol.