Sphenomeris chinensis

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Palapalaʻā
  • Palaʻe
  • Palaʻā
  • Pāʻū o Palaʻe
  • Pāʻū o palaʻe

Hawaiian Names

  • Palaa
  • Palae
  • Palapalaa
  • Pau o Palae
  • Pau o palae

Common Names

  • Chinese creepingfern
  • Palaʻe's skirt


  • Adiantum chusanum
  • Davallia remota
  • Davallia tenuifolia
  • Lindsaya chinensis
  • Odontosoria chinensis
  • Shenomeris chusana
  • Sphenomeris chinensis var. tenuisecta
  • Trichomanes chinense

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Non-Woody, Clumping

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

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

Mature Size, Width

Palaʻā can spread to 3 feet or more.

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Ground Cover

Additional Landscape Use Information

Though one of the most common and widespread of native Hawaiian ferns, it is not always easy to grow and is not commonly seen in cultivation. But since palaʻā is by no means scarce, all attempts to grow this native fern is worth the effort. Divisions work well.

Plant under trees or tall shrubs for shade.

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Medium
  • Coarse

Additional Plant Texture Information

Fronds are variable in length and range from 5 to over 30 inches.

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Medium Green

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Mealybugs and scale can at times be problematic. Caterpillars. [6]

leaf Growth Requirements


Foliar feedings of diluted fish or kelp emulsion monthly or every other month have proved to be beneficial. Use light applications of fertilizers.

Pruning Information

Prune dead fronds.

Water Requirements

  • Moist

Additional Water Information

Palaʻā can grow from wet to dry conditions, but appears to do best moist.

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun

Additional Lighting Information

Palaʻā will grow in sun, but seem to perform best with partial sun conditions.

Spacing Information

If grown close together as a type of groundcover, than perhaps space 1-2 feet a part. As specimen plants then, perhaps, plant from 3 or more feet a part.

Plant close together to keep weeds out. [6]


  • Drought


  • Cinder
  • Organic


Poor tolerance to salt or wind. [6]

Special Growing Needs

Even though palaʻā is commonly encountered in the wild, it is not readily seen under cultivation. One reason may have to do with lack of native soils or something in the soil that may be essential to its survival. However, this needs to be explored more.

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

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

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • Less than 150, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 150 to 1000, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 2000 to 2999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 3000 to 3999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 4000 to 4999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 4000 to 4999, Greater than 100 (Wet)


  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

Palaʻā is common in mesic to wet forests, grasslands, and shrublands and along streamsides from about 130 to about 4300 feet and is one of the most common and widespread native ferns in the Hawaiian Islands.

These ferns can be seen growing on exposed red soil banks along trails and roads in Hawaiʻi.

It is also native to Madagascar, China, the Himalyas, India, Sri Lanka, the Malay Pennisula, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Polynesia.

leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Palaʻā (Sphenomeris chinensis) belongs to the Lace fern family (Lindsaeaceae). Sphenomeris is a tropical genus, occasionally in subtropical and temperate areas, of about twenty poorly defined species.

It is also native to Madagascar, China, the Himalayas, India, Sri Lanka, the Malay Peninsula, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Polynesia. This is the only indigenous species is the Hawaiian Islands.


The generic name Sphenomeris is from the Greek sphen, wedge, and meros, part, referring to the wedge-shaped ultimate segments.

The specific epithet chinensis is from China and the Latin suffix -ensis, indicating the origin.

Hawaiian Name:

Palaʻā means brownish-red, the name of the dye color extracted from this fern.

Background Information

Palaʻā is one of the commonest native ferns in the Hawaiian Islands.

It does hybridize with the naturalized non-native fern Lindsaea ensifolia, of the same family (Lindsaeaceae) known as x Lindsaeosoria flynii.

Early Hawaiian Use


Early Hawaiians used the old fronds of palaʻā to make a dark brownish-red (palaʻā) dye for kapa. [1,5,8] Some authors report a red dye is obtained. [8]


Lei makers used the lacy fronds to make fine-textured lei haku and for other lei material providing a soft and comfortable base for wearers. [3,7,8]


Palaʻā was also used as a medicine for various female disorders. [5,8] The plant is boiled as a tea and drunk. It was also used to bathe in for puʻupuʻu ʻōhune (lump skin rash) or puʻu nunui (large or many bumps), and to wash pūhō (abscess, burst sore, ulcer), pehu (swelling), and pala (gonorrhea). [4]

Modern Use

Palaʻā is still used in lei work today. The fronds are interlaced with maile, ʻōhiʻa lehua, kuluʻī, wāwaeʻiole, and other native plants in lei for neck, head, wrist, ankle, and horse. [6]

The fronds can also be used as greenery is a vase with a life of about 5 days. [6]

Additional References

[1] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture," by Beatrice H. Krauss, page 67.

[2] http://wehewehe.org [Accesed 6/18/10]

[3] "Nā Lei Makamae--The Treasured Lei" by Marie A. McDonald & Paul R. Weissich, page 130.

[4] "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, page 83.

[5] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 15.

[6] "Growing Plants for Hawaiian Lei" by CTAHR (College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources), Universirty of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, pages 38, 39.

[7] "Lāʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants" by Isabella Aiona Abbott, page 127.

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

[9] "Nowhere Else on Earth: Indigenous Plants of Hawaii" hosted by Sam ʻOhukaniʻōhiʻa Gon III, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXT7y9klHCI




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