New Plymouth is credited with the first wearing of the silver fern, according to Nelson historian Alan Turley.
He said that while records were scant, an historic magazine cutting given to him by rugby commentator Keith Quinn showed the fern being worn in a shooting, not rugby, match between New Plymouth's army garrison and the visiting Royal Navy.
It was 1853, and the Royal Navy ship HMS Sparrow was anchored offshore in a visit to the fledgling town. While onshore, the navy men challenged the local army lads to a rifle shooting match at the Rewarewa rifle range.
According to the clipping, the army men decided to pick silver fern tips growing near the range and pin them to their uniform shirt pockets as a sort of good luck talisman. The team won the shooting match and thereafter considered the fern a good-luck symbol.