What is a Bird's Nest Fern?

Jacob Queen

Asplenium nidus, also known as bird’s nest fern, is a tropical plant whose natural home is the Polynesian Islands and Hawaii, where they typically grow in the higher branches of trees. They are epiphytic, which means that though they grow on another source, such as trees, they do not feed off them. They receive their nutrients from the air and water. Their fronds are wavy and spoon-shaped and can reach a span of up to three feet. Though difficult to grow, they can make beautiful houseplants, but indoor specimens will not generally be as large as those grown in optimum outdoor conditions.

Bird's nest fern can be susceptible to fungus gnats and other pests.
Bird's nest fern can be susceptible to fungus gnats and other pests.

The bird’s nest fern grows from spores dropped on moss and requires high humidity and temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 26 degrees Celsius) to achieve germination. New spores or seedlings must be covered in plastic or glass and exposed to a continually misted environment to achieve desired humidity and temperature. Since these plants are essentially jungle plants, and require such extensive extra care to germinate, it's generally recommended to obtain them from commercial nurseries, pre-germinated and ready to pot.

Caterpillars are considered a pest to bird's nest fern plants.
Caterpillars are considered a pest to bird's nest fern plants.

Once germination and rooting have been established, the bird’s nest fern can be moved to small pots or baskets containing organic soil. They should be kept indoors during periods when the temperature grows cool. Clay pots are preferable because they allow for increased airflow. The pots should be placed in an area that offers lots of indirect sun because full sun can scorch the fronds. Ideally, the soil should be kept moist at all times, because they may die if the soil dries completely.

Fertilizer should be applied twice yearly, in spring and summer. Organic mixtures such as fish emulsion are generally recommended. To assure that the plant is not over fertilized, the mixture should consist of half water, and half fertilizer. Over-fertilization can cause damage to both the roots and fronds.

Typically, the bird’s nest fern can be susceptible to a number of pests and fungus. Caterpillars, mealy bugs, and fungus gnats are common problems and fairly easy to detect. Keeping the growing area free of algae is one way to reduce the chances of an infestation. Pesticides can also be used, though extra care should be given as they can sometimes harm the plant as well. If more than one plant is believed to be infested, it is best to apply the pesticide to a single plant so that any resulting damage can be reviewed.

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