The bold texture of bird’s nest fern adds interest whether grown indoors or out.
by Caleb Melchior
You all know ferns. The words I usually reach for to describe them are delicate, filigreed, lacey, refined. Those words don’t work for bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus).
Unique Fern with Bold Texture
Bird’s nest ferns are tropical ferns with big, bold foliage. They grow like massive sconces high in the crowns of trees in tropical and subtropical Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. They’re also grown by a few in-the-know gardeners. From now on, that includes you.
An individual bird’s nest fern grows as a stunning rosette of foliage that unscrolls into a giant whorl of broad green swords splayed out at the world. Dark midribs support the apple-green undivided fronds. The backsides of the individual fronds are crosshatched with lines of black and brown sori. In cultivation, bird’s nest ferns usually reach a maximum of 18 to 24 inches high and wide. In the wild, they can reach 36 inches across and nearly as high.
Suggested Varieties to Grow
The standard variety has barely rippled edges to its fronds, but other varieties display varying degrees of leaf texture. Asplenium nidus var. plicatum has fronds puckered into fancy rippled ribbons. ‘Variegata’ is an incredible flat-leaved form with perfect pinstripes of crisp white and cucumber green. ‘Victoria’ is a cultivar with dramatically crimped edges, like an old-fashioned lasagna noodle. The fronds terminate in charming twists. ‘Crissie’ is bright green and bifurcated at the tips, a bit like a staghorn fern. ‘Emperor’ is ridiculously crested and cut, like curly parsley. Once you get started, you’ll want every form.
The secret to keeping happy bird’s nest ferns is to fool them into believing that they’re living in the jungle. They like heat, humidity and filtered sunlight. That makes them perfect porch plants for steamy American summers. In the wild, the plant’s vase-like shape captures fallen leaves and water; as the debris decomposes it feeds the fern.
You probably don’t want that in your front-porch containers. Instead, keep them in humus-rich, light potting mix and feed them occasionally with a weak nutrient-balanced foliar feed. Winter them in a warm, sunny window—maybe on a tray of pebbles and water to maintain high humidity. Move these ferns back outside after night temperatures remain consistently over 50°F.
Get more suggestions for indoor plants that thrive here.