Bird's-nest fern
Some Endangered

Bird's-nest Ferns

Asplenium sp.
  • Division: Pteridophyta
  • Class: Pteridopsida
  • Order: Polypodiales
  • Family: Aspleniaceae
  • Genus: Asplenium
  • Species: nidus, australasicum, antiquum, serratum, goudeyi

Overview

Bird’s-nest ferns have been popular with fern enthusiasts since Victorian times. These beautiful, bright green ferns in the genus Asplenium produce a crown of upright, undivided fronds that grow in a rosette formation, creating a funnel-like center over a mat of fibrous roots at the base. The resulting shape is like a bowl or saucer, reminiscent of a bird’s nest. These species are usually epiphytes, growing on trees, and the fern’s fronds roll back as they turn brown, creating a handy leaf nest in the branches that many animals take advantage of.

Some bird’s-nest ferns can grow to four feet in diameter, with fronds that are 2 to 5 feet (61 to 152.4 centimeters) long. They do best in warm, humid climates and prefer filtered sunlight and shade. Bird’s-nest ferns are popular as houseplants and as landscaping accents, but some are considered endangered in their native habitat, where they are impacted by habitat destruction. So if you’d like a few of these interesting ferns to grace your garden, be sure to get them from garden centers.

Characteristics

Bird’s-nest ferns are evergreen, with solid, undivided fronds that may be a consistent width from top to bottom or taper, depending on the species. Each frond has a dark central rib down its length; in Asplenium australasicum, the rib is prominent underneath, giving the frond a boat-keeled appearance. The spores of bird’s-nest ferns develop in neat, parallel lines of sori on the underside of the frond, extending out on either side from the rib, almost like a herringbone pattern.   

The fronds grow in a rosette pattern to form a cup or vase shape, which collects water and humus at the base of the plant. Although they can grow on the ground in soil, bird’s-nest ferns are largely epiphytes, and this structure is useful for getting needed nutrients to the roots. The brown, hairy, fibrous roots form a dense and spongy mat or ball that can serve as a solid foundation for the plant.

Cultivation

Bird’s-nest ferns require moderate, indirect light, and although some species can tolerate a dry spell, they prefer consistent and fairly high humidity. These ferns can be established on a tree or a log, but if planted in the ground, they require rich soil that should be kept uniformly moist.

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Venting One's Spleen

Ferns in the genus Asplenium are referred to as spleenworts—asplenium is the Greek word for spleen, and wort is a general word for plant. At one time, people thought ingesting these ferns medicinally would cure disorders of the spleen.

Side Dish

The newly emerging, curled fronds (called crosiers) of Asplenium australasicum are a popular vegetable in Taiwan.

Unique Addition

Asplenium goudeyi is only found on Lord Howe Island off the coast of Australia, and it was only recently described for science, in 1996.

In Celebration

In old Hawaii, the leaves of Asplenium nidus, called ekaha, adorned hula altars and were used in canoe tree-cutting ceremonies.

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