Psilotum complanatum

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Moa
  • Moa nahele
  • Pipi

Hawaiian Names

  • Moa
  • Moa nahele
  • Pipi

Common Names

  • Flat-stemmed whiskfern

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Non-Woody, Spreading

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Fern/Fern-like, Short, Less than 1
  • Fern/Fern-like, Medium, 1 to 3

Mature Size, Width

From 1 to 2 feet.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Hanging Basket

Additional Landscape Use Information

Moa nahele graceful in appearance with downward flowing leaves but is less commonly seen in urban landscapes than its cousin.

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

The stems of the two Psilotum species have characteristic features:

  • Moa* or Upright whiskfern (P. nudum) are upright plants with triangle-shaped stems.
  • Moa nahele* or Flat-stemmed whiskfern (P. complanatum) are plants that droop downward with flat, pancake-like stems.

It's all in the common name!

* Both species are called Moa or Moa nahele, as well as pipi, in the Hawaiian language. To distinguish between the two species in the text, this website has chosen to use Moa for Psilotum nudum and Moa nahele for Psilotum complanatum.

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

Moa nahele do not produce flowers. But the distinctive yellow, sometimes bright yellow, sporangia (spore cases) are noticeable on the upper stems especially on the green plants.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

The few specimens seen in cultivation appear to have no issues with pests. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Growth Requirements


Light fertizing with organic fertilizers, such as fish and/or kelp emulsion, seems satisfactory for moa nahele. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Pruning Information

Dead stems can be removed for a cleaner appearance.

Water Requirements

  • Moist
  • Wet

Additional Water Information

Moa nahele does well with constant moisture in a pot, but prefer from moist to wet conditions when growing on hāpuʻu (Cibotium spp.) [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Partial sun


  • Cinder
  • Organic


Moa nahele do not appear to be as tolerant to dier or full sun conditions as moa (P. nudum). [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

Special Growing Needs

Does well in standards pots or hanging baskets with 3 parts hāpuʻu potting media to 1 part cinder. But perform best when grown as an epiphyte on hāpuʻu trunks or logs. [David Eickhoff, Native Plants Hawaiʻi]

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

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

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

No data available.


  • Epiphyte
  • Lithophyte

Additional Habitat Information

Moa nahele is found mostly as an epiphtye in mesic to wet forests from 820 to over 3600 feet.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Psilotum belong to the Whisk-fern family (Psilotaceae) with only two wide spread species: Psilotum complanatum and P. nudus. Both species are indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands.


The generic name is from the Greek psilos, naked or smooth, alluding to the smooth aerial stems without leaves.

The specific epithet complanatum is from the Latin complanatus, flattened, in reference to flattened stems of this species.

Hawaiian Names:

Moa nahele literally means "forest chicken." Moa is chicken, referring to a chickens' comb, and reference to the fronds.

Nahele means forest.

Background Information

The two native indigenous species of moa (Psilotum spp.) can hybridize when found together. In the Hawaiian Islands, the hybrid is an infrequent to locally common plant found in mesic to wet forests, from 1640 to about 2790 feet, on Kauaʻi, Oʻahu (particularly in the Waiʻanae Mountains), Lānaʻi, and Maui and is referred to as Psilotum x intermedium.

Moa nahele is less common in the Hawaiian islands than moa, but still easily seen and locally common in their habitat.

The stems of the two Psilotum species have characteristic features:

  • Moa* or Upright whiskfern (P. nudum) are upright plants with triangle-shaped stems. This can been seen when stems are cut horizonally and thus showing a triangular shape.
  • Moa nahele* or Flat-stemmed whiskfern (P. complanatum) are plants that droop downward with flat, pancake-like stems, when cut horizonally.

Early Hawaiian Use

Games & Sports:

Early Hawaiian children would play a simple game of moa nahele (lit., chicken vegetation). Plants in Hawaiian Culture explains how this game was played: “Two children sat or stood facing one another, each holding a branched stem of moa. These they interlocked and then slowly pulled apart until the branches of one broke. The other child, without broken branches, was the winner and announced his victory by crowing like a rooster (moa).” [1] One of the names ʻoʻō moa in fact means "cock's crow."


Moa was also used in lei making by early Hawaiians. [1]


Moa (Psilotum spp.) was used for kūkae paʻa (constipation) in newborn babies and elderly men and women. It was also mixed with other plants to treat akepau (tuberculosis, consumption), and various respiratory conditions. [2] Additionally, extracts from moa were used as laxatives. The spores were used for diarrhea in infants and used like talcum powder to prevent chafing from loincloths. [3]


Additional References

[1] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 77, 88, 325.

[2] "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, pages 74, 75.

[3] "Ferns of Hawaiʻi" by Kathy Valier, page 4.



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