Bird's Nest Fern Plant Profile

A Unique Air Plant

Bird's nest fern on a bedside table

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida 

Bird's nest fern (Asplenium nidus) is one of two tropical Asplenium species found in cultivation. The other is Asplenium bulbiferum, often called the spleenwort or mother fern, which is much harder to grow and looks nothing like its cousin. Asplenium ferns are naturally epiphytic, meaning they grow on the surface of other plants. In their rainforest homes, they can be found growing high in the crooks of trees. They grow in a series of erect, spoon-shaped, and apple-colored fronds that rise from a central rosette. Healthy plants can have fronds up to 3 feet long, but this is rare in most indoor situations. These are beautiful plants that require a bit of babying to reach their fullest potential.

Botanical Name Asplenium nidus
Common Names Bird's nest fern, nest fern
Plant Type Perennial fern, grown as a houseplant in cooler climates
Mature Size Fronds grow to 20 to 59 inches long and 4 to 8 inches broad.
Sun Exposure Filtered or indirect light
Soil Type Peat-based potting mix
Soil pH 5 to 5.5
Bloom Time No flowers; grown for foliage
Flower Color No flowers; grown for foliage
Hardiness Zones 11 to 12
Native Area East tropical Africa and tropical Asia
a bird's nest fern
The Spruce / Leticia Almeida
crinkly leaves of a bird's nest fern
The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

How to Grow Bird's Nest Fern

Bird's nest ferns are beautiful and many conservatories and greenhouses boast impressively large specimens. They are a natural choice to group with orchids, bromeliads, and other rainforest plants in a display. Outdoors, these ferns have been known to attach themselves to grow directly on a tree, especially if they can find a spot between branches to nestle in. They get humidity from the tree and outside environment and shaded light from the branches and leaves of the tree.

When growing them as a houseplant, the key to a healthy bird's nest fern is providing enough warmth and moisture. Given these two conditions, the ferns can withstand higher light levels. One of the best places to put a bird's nest fern is on a shower ledge or the wide edges of a luxury bathtub in a bathroom near a window, where it will get optimal humidity and warmth, along with sufficient light.

If you are caring for your bird's nest fern correctly, it can grow quite quickly and steadily The new leaves will constantly emerge from the central area of the plant, or the "nest." Do not touch, move, or handle the new delicate fronds as they emerge from the nest. They are extremely fragile, and if you touch them, there is a high chance of them becoming damaged or deformed.

There are no serious disease or pest problems with bird's nest ferns, though they can be affected by some of the same insects common to other indoor plants. Insecticidal soaps are the best solution, as chemical pesticides will damage this plant.

Light

These plants need filtered light to light shade. Don't expose to direct sun other than the very early morning sun. Placing the fern by an east- or north-facing window is ideal.

Soil

Plant the bird's nest fern in loose, rich organic compost or a peat-based potting mix. A mixture of two parts peat and one part perlite would work well. Otherwise, try a peat-based mixture with organic material.

Water

These are true jungle plants. Keep their compost moist, but don't let the plant become soggy. Also, avoid watering right into the "nest" as that encourages mold and rot. Water the soil rather than the plant.

Temperature and Humidity

The bird's nest fern will thrive in a warm area. Keep the temperature between 68 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold drafts and sudden temperature drops will not be appreciated. The plant loves humidity and will thrive in humid environments such as the bathroom, a greenhouse, or a terrarium. You can even run a humidifier near the fern.

Fertilizer

During the growing season (April through September), fertilize about once a month with weak liquid fertilizer. Don't put fertilizer pellets in the central cup or "nest." Withhold any fertilizer during the winter, when most plants are in their resting phase. Too much food will cause deformed leaves and/or brown or yellow-spotted leaves.

Potting and Repotting

Bird's nest ferns prefer to be slightly underpotted. As naturally epiphytic plants, they are used to growing in a minimum of organic material and mature plants will elongate above the soil level as the fern grows and sheds lower leaves. The problem, of course, is that large ferns will easily tip over their smaller pots. When repotting, usually every other year, use the next pot size up and refresh the compost.

Propagation

Bird's nest ferns are not easy to propagate and cannot be divided in the same way that other fern species can be. They are usually raised from spore or tissue culture, which means propagation is usually beyond the reach of most home growers.

Varieties

Some varietals of bird's nest fern have been developed, usually with crinkled or frilly leaf margins. Mother fern (also called spleenwort) is sometimes available at the nursery or online, but this is a much more difficult fern to grow indoors than bird's nest ferns.