- Division: Pteridophyta
- Class: Pteridopsida
- Order: Polypodiales
- Family: Aspleniaceae
- Genus: Asplenium
- Species: nidus, australasicum, antiquum, serratum, goudeyi
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 4 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.
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.
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.