Asplenium nidus

leaf Main Plant Information

Genus

Asplenium

Species

nidus

Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • ʻĀkaha
  • ʻĒkaha
  • ʻĒkaha kuahiwi

Hawaiian Names

  • Akaha
  • Ekaha
  • Ekaha kuahiwi

Common Names

  • Bird's nest fern
  • Bird's-nest fern

Synonyms

  • Neottopteris nidus
  • Thamnopteris nidus

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status

Indigenous

Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Non-Woody, Clumping

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Fern/Fern-like, Tall, Greater than 3

Mature Size, Width

ʻĒkaha can grow to a height and width size to four feet or more.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Indoor
  • Specimen Plant

Additional Landscape Use Information

These showy, but rather slow growing, ferns can be used as accents under trees in shade to partial sun locations. They also do well in pots and hanging baskets in shaded areas such as on a north- or east-facing lanaʻi. These ferns can be grown as container plants indoors and even used in a bathroom. [4]

ʻĒkaha will tolerate some sun but the leaves may get scorched and look unsightly. They will usually recover, sometimes slowly, especially if new growth (emerging fronds) has not been badly affected and plants transferred to a shadier area. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Use on the ground (terrestrial), on rocks or in crevices (lithophyte), or on tree branches or in crotches of the branches as an epiphyte. Smaller ferns can easily be held in place on the branches with twine or a nylon stocking and should be kept moist until established. Larger ferns will need more support and can topple in windy locations if not properly secured. Place in amongst large boulders with enough space for the fronds to showcase themselves. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Plant Produces Flowers

No

leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

Fronds are without indentations. They have smooth edges.

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

leaf Growth Requirements

Fertilizer

13-13-13 slow release fertilizer every six months for plants in pots. For larger potted ferns showing poor color or not producing crosiers (fiddleheads or emerging fronds) use a complete fertilizer at half the recommended strength. Do not till solid fertilizers into soil since ferns have a shallow root system. [1]

Pruning Information

If plants are in trees or on the ground, the dead brown fronds which hang down from the plant can be trimmed away or left as a natural forming skirt. Potted plants usually look best if spent fronds are trimmed away. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Water Requirements

  • Moist

Soil must be well drained

Yes

Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

Plants appear to be at their best in shadier conditions.

Spacing Information

To showcase these ferns, space at perhaps four or more feet a part. For a denser setting, stagger the plants closer in an odd-numbered planting arrangement of three, five, seven, and so on. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Soils

  • Clay
  • Cinder
  • Organic

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui
  • Hawaiʻi

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • Less than 150, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • Less than 150, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 150 to 1000, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 2000 to 2999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 2000 to 2999, Greater than 100 (Wet)

Habitat

  • Epiphyte
  • Lithophyte
  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

In the Hawaiian Islands, ʻēkaha is found as a terrestrial, epiphyte or a lithophyte (on rocks) in dry and mesic and into wetter forests from 130 to about 2500 feet [2] on all the Main Islands except Niʻihau and Kahoʻolawe. It can been seen on the lateral branches or crotch of large both native (e.g. koa) and non-native (e.g. monkey pod) trees.

This beautiful fern is also native to Polynesia, tropical Asia and Australia east to Mauritius and Madagascar.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

ʻĒkaha (Asplenium nidus) belongs to one of the largest of the fern families Apleniaceae or the Spleenwort family.

There are 28 species of Asplenium ferns native to the Hawaiian Islands, 14 of which are endemic. [8]

Etymology

The genus name Asplenium is from the Latin asplenum, spleenwort. Ancient Greeks believed that this fern could cure spleen diseases.

The Latin specific epithet nidus, nest, in reference to the nest-like appearance of this fern.

Hawaiian Name:

ʻĒkaha kuahiwi means "mountain ʻēkaha."

Background Information

The bird's-nest fern or ʻēkaha (Asplenium nidus) is one of the most recognizable of all ferns with its unmistakable large wide fronds visually similar to banana leaves. Another distinctive characteristic are the numerous long parallel rows of sori (fern spores) blanketing the underside of the fronds giving it a rusty look. 

On Oʻahu (southern Koʻolau Mts.) and on Maui in dry to mesic forests, very young ʻēkaha* is frequently seen with another indigenous fern ʻoheʻohe (Haplopteris elongata). The long narrow fronds and rhizomes of ʻoheʻohe appear to look like aerial roots coming from the accompanying ʻēkaha. It is not clear if ʻoheʻohe is growing as an epiphyte on ʻēkaha or the reverse.

_____

* A juvenile form of ʻēkaha is called ʻēkahakaha.

Early Hawaiian Use

Household Furnishings:

The dark midribs of ʻēkaha fronds were woven into lau hala mats and other objects of lau hala to provide pattern and color contrast. [6,7]

Medicinal:

A liquid made from ʻēkaha leaf shoots and mixed with other plants was used to treat children and infants with ʻea or thrush and pāʻaoʻao, a disease which physically weakens. [3] Shoots with other plants were pounded and liquid squeezed into mouths of children with mouth sores or general weakness. [5] An ointment was also made from the leaves and mixed with other ingredients and liquid was used for ulcers or body sores (pūhō kolokolo kokoʻole). [3,5]

Other Uses:

ʻĒkaha were ceremonially planted to cover residual stumps after a tree had been felled for canoe (waʻa) making and before it was shaped with an adze. [7]

Modern Use

Though a common house plant, most sold in the U.S. are not Asplenium nidus but rather the similar looking Asplenium australasicum. This is a great reason to acquire plants called "bird's-nest ferns" from reputable native plant sources.

There are several nice cultivars usually based on leaf shapes, some of these being quite spectacular!

Additional References

[1] Kay Lynch, Lāʻau Hawaiʻi.

[2] "Ferns of Hawaiʻi" by Kathy Valier, page 62.

[3] Hawaiian Ethnobotany Database Online http://www2.bishopmuseum.org/ethnobotanydb/index.asp [accessed 12/18/09]

[4] "Container Gardening in Hawaii" by Janice Crowl, page 53.

[5] "Hawaiian Herbs of Medicinal Value, by D.M. Kaaiakamanu & J.K. Akina, page 22.

[6] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 21.

[7] "Ethnobotany of Hawaii" by Beatrice H. Krauss, page 84.

[8] "Current Status of Ferns and Lycophytes" by Amanda L. Vernon & Tom A. Ranker, pages 96-98.

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