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The Silver Fern

The image of the silver fern is widely representative of New Zealand and New Zealanders. It is an image to which all New Zealanders relate and is a powerful and emotional symbol of inspiration at times when it matters.

The symbol comes from the leaf of the New Zealand fern - Cyathea Dealbata (Ponga is the Maori name). The leaves 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 Maori as bedding for sleeping on due to the thin texture of the 'hairs'.

The symbol of the silver fern is widely used in sport which, given New Zealand's passion for and commitment to sport, is understandable. However, it is misleading to characterise it as a symbol limited to sporting roles - it pervades the imagery of all of New Zealand and has inspired new Zealanders in all aspects of their lives ... from the famous New Zealand export "Fernleaf Butter" through the badges of most New Zealand Army units through Neil Dawson's Civic Square sculpture in Wellington through to Violet Walrond's swimming costume in the 100m freestyle final at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games through to our old 1 cent coins.

The New Zealand Labour Party badge has featured the fern from 1946. From the early 1970s lifetime members of the Party were presented with a pin after 25 years service.

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, while the fern leaf had become the predominant badge in the Army by World War I ... and of course in New Zealand's national game, rugby.

When the All Blacks first played overseas (NSW) in 1884 they are understood to have worn blue jerseys with a gold fern leaf. However, at the first Annual General Meeting of the NZRFU, held on 27 April 1893, "It was resolved that the New Zealand Representative colours should be Black Jersey with Silver Fernleaf, Black Cap with Silver Monogram, White Knickerbockers and Black Stockings".