The “Bird’s Nest Fern”, otherwise known as Asplenium nidus, is one of two species in the Aspleniaceae family found in commercial cultivation. These house plants have been beloved for decades, as they’re unique, beautiful houseplants. Let’s take a look at what makes this species special, how to care for it, and how it got its name.
All About the Bird’s Nest Fern
These plants are native to tropical habitats of South Eastern Asia, Eastern Australia, and Hawaii. They can also be found through Polynesia, India and Eastern Africa. In their native environment, they’re typically found living in trees, on rockfaces, or lapping up filtered sunshine from the forest floor.
Wherever they’re found, all grow in the richly fertile organic matter and forest debris.
The Asplenium nidus is a decorative evergreen fern, tufted in habit, growing with short and erect rhizomes. These forest-loving epiphytes bear a central rosette of slightly leathery, strap-shaped fronds. These have an unusual, deeply waved leaf margin, running rosette to tip.
Unlike many ferns in cultivation, the bird’s nest fern is a sturdy, fleshy specimen. Its fronds have a completely unique appeal, rather than the delicate filigree fronds of Dryopteris varieties or Polystichum families.
Maybe this individuality is the reason why this fern appeals to the fast-expanding foliage following in our society, myself being near the top of the list.
Don’t get me wrong: I love flowers, but a fern’s elegance and gentle unfurling fronds is like nothing else. Less obvious, but reserved and naturally beautiful.
The Bird’s Nest Fern’s Growing Form:
The lengthy apple-green fronds of this specimen grow in the shape of a funnel. They extend from the central rosette with an erect, arching habit, often reaching up to 1.2 meters. These fronds have a crinkled appeal, creating a wavy leaf margin. Each has a contrasting black midrib and will mature to a width of up to 20 cm.
The waviness of the leaf (frond) margin depends on how much sunlight the fern receives. Basically, the more light, the more dramatic the wavy leaf margins become. Remember, in its natural habitat the bird’s nest fern receives filtered, indirect light high in the tropical forest canopy. Its mat of fibrous roots grows readily in fertile debris, creating perfect, bowl-shaped foliage.
In infancy, the newly borne fronds are actually called “crosiers”. In Taiwan, young crosiers of the Asplenium australasicum are eaten as a vegetable. Rather like seaweed, I imagine?
The bird’s nest fern earned its name because the center of the plant—the inverted cone-shaped rosette—resembles a bird’s nest. As far as various plant names are concerned, this one actually makes sense!
These have been popular house plants since the Victorian era, and are commonly known as “Spleenworts”. This common name derives from the Greek word for spleen (“Asplenium”), and “wort” (plant). The latter word is derived from the Middle English, but is still in use, particularly with medicinal herbs.
Here we see reference to the plant’s medicinal properties, as many years ago, it was seen as an edible cure for spleen disorders.
Clean Air Properties
This novel-looking fern is just one of the many indoor house plants proven to filter harmful toxins—such as formaldehyde, xylene and toluene—from the air in your home. Another great reason to fill your indoor spaces with a large selection of decorative plant life. Not only do plants look good, they can make you happier and healthier too!
Planting Your Bird’s Nest Fern
Choosing the Best Growing Medium
The best compost for growing the popular Asplenium nidus is one with a peat base. Aim for a pH value on the acidic side: between 5 and 5.5. Organic matter and perlite are the perfect soil conditioners, which will provide a nutrient-rich, well-draining growing medium when added to the peat base. I recommend using 2 parts peat to 1 part perlite. In addition, toss in a good handful of well-rotted leaf mold or compost.
In its natural habitat, a bird’s nest fern is quite used to growing in a minimal amount of rooting material. For this reason, keep your plant in a smaller pot with its roots quite contained. They seem to like it this way, so why change it?
Siting Your Fern
A bird’s nest fern prefers a site with filtered and indirect sunlight. If granted that, it’ll grow to its full potential. This is a frost-tender species, better to grow indoors unless you’re in zones 11 – 12. If you live in a tropical environment, you can plant yours outdoors.
When siting indoors, place your fern in view of an east- or north-facing window. This will give your plant enough light to prosper, whilst avoiding direct sunlight and possible scorch damage.
Humidity is an important factor when growing this ornamental fern, making a bathroom, glasshouse, or terrarium the perfect spot. Extra humidity can be added by misting your plant’s fronds regularly, and by setting the pot on a tray of water and pebbles.
Do not place your fern near a dry heat source as they will not respond well. In other words, areas near wood burners, fireplaces and radiators are best to be avoided.
Perfect Growing Temperature
By keeping a temperature of between 20–26 degrees C, your Asplenium nidus will thrive. This is a very slow-growing fern, so don’t expect quick results.
Caring for Your Bird’s Nest Fern
I recommend watering your bird’s nest fern regularly throughout the spring and summer months, when in its growing phase. Try to ensure the potting soil is always moist to the touch, though not waterlogged and never leave your plant sitting in water. This can cause suffocation of the root system.
In the dormant winter season, reduce the amount you water, but don’t entirely dry the roots out.
Feeding your Bird’s Nest Fern
As a slow-growing specimen, I only tend to feed once a month from April to September to help it through the growing phase. Choose a half-diluted balance feed, with an N.P.K. value of around 20–20–20 and water the soil around the roots, not the plant itself. This will help to avoid any potential root rot problems.
There is no real need to prune your bird’s nest fern. Just remove dead, damaged, or diseased fronds as a general tidy up for appearance’s sake.
As fragile new fronds appear from the central rosette, try not to touch them as they can easily be damaged.
Unlike some ferns, the Asplenium nidus does not like to be divided. Propagation comes by way of spore or tissue culture which is likely too in-depth for the average house plant lover.
When browsing my local nursery, I’m always pleasantly surprised at how reasonably priced ferns are in comparison to other plant life. For this reason, I recommend investing in a new plant rather tackling propagating, unless this particularly lights your fire.
Plant Problems including Pests and Disease
The most prevalent insects to watch out for are scale insects, and leaf and bud eelworms. Scale insects are closely related to aphids, whiteflies and jumping plant lice. They can weaken host plants and excrete a sticky residue on foliage, which in turn, causes sooty mold to grow.
To control this sap-sucking pest, use an insecticide that includes the synthetic pyrethroides lambda-cyhalothrin, such as Westland Resolva Pest Killer. Speak to your local garden centre to see what they have available.
Leaf and bud eelworms are plant-parasitic nematodes that feed on plant cells and damage the host plant. These are microscopic, worm-like pests that have a short life-cycle. In contrast, mature pests often overwinter in dormant buds, seeds, and dry parts until warmer conditions arrive in spring.
These plant parasites thrive in warm and moist conditions, causing stunted plant growth, yellowing stripes on fronds and distorted growth. There is no current pesticide available to home gardeners to control this parasite. As a result, follow good garden hygiene and cultural controls to minimize damage and lower infestations.
Rust can be a problem for your Asplenium fern, especially in periods of mild, damp weather. Keep an eye on your plant during these conditions, and adjust humidity levels accordingly.
Perfect Companion Plantings
When choosing companion plants, aim for species that have similar light and humidity requirements. This will allow your plants to live together harmonously.
Epiphytic succulents require similar growing conditions to the Asplenium nidus and have weird and wonderful growing forms. You can guarantee a diverse collection of colors, forms and flowers. Take a peek at the Epiphyllum anguliger, otherwise known as the “Fishbone Cactus”.
These have a pendant form and the most unexpected, stunning flowers. Each of these features a unique fishbone-shaped leaf structure. Another beauty is the Disocactus phyllantoides. This is another pendant epiphyte with striking blooms and similar habitat conditions.
There are many forms of epiphytes to add to your collection. Some of the most common are orchids, bromeliads and mosses, but my favorites are just that little bit different—much like myself!