Scientific name: Filicium decipiens
(literally "deceiving fern
Also known as: Hawaiian fern tree
Originally from Ceylon (despite its name), the Japanese fern tree is a tropical shade tree which grows like a ficus but causes fewer problems.
The Latin name means "deceiving fern", and this is entirely appropriate. This is not a fern at all, but the leaf structure makes it strongly resemble one. The leaves are even wavy, as if bent by fern spores underneath, and yet this is a tree.
The shade underneath a Japanese fern tree is as dense and cool as beneath a ficus, but it comes at much less cost to the surroundings. Unlike a ficus, these trees do not heave the sidewalk and pavement as their root structure grows. Also unlike a ficus, the leaves and berries do not stain or damage the parking lot below.
While this tree is not very cold-tolerant (and in fact can be damaged by a freeze), it can stand up to other conditions that would damage other shade trees. It survives salt spray, low moisture, and lots of exhaust on the streets of Hawaii. It can take most of what Florida and other tropical areas can dish out; because its root structure is deep, Japanese fern trees survived Hurricane Andrew while nearby ficus trees keeled over with their shallow roots blowin' in the wind.
The disadvantage of this tree is that it tends to be a little more expensive. Of 10,000 seeds, hundreds or fewer may germinate properly and become seedlings. Once grown beyond a seedling, however, it does fine. Fortunately, air layering also works well.