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How to Grow and Care for Bird's Nest Fern

Everything you need to know about this unusual tropical houseplant.

How to Grow and Care for Bird's Nest Fern

Leticia Almeida

The bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus), also known as nest fern, is the perfect easy houseplant to add a lush, tropical look to your space. Its wavy, lance-shaped leaves extend from a central rosette rather than the feathery fronds of its fellow ferns. It’s also an epiphyte, which grows on other plants: In the wild, you'll find this fern on the junctions of jungle tree branches. 

You may have seen varieties of this fern at your local garden store or nursery. Because of their upward-arching growth, bird's nest ferns make a lovely option to display as hanging plants in baskets or macrame planters. While they don't flower, the rosette shape with wavy leaves makes this houseplant a chic addition to your collection.

  • Botanical Name: Asplenium nidus
  • Common Name: Bird's nest fern, nest fern
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Mature Size: 2–5 feet high
  • Sun Exposure: Medium to bright, indirect light; some shade
  • Soil Type: Well-draining potting soil
  • Soil pH: 5.0–5.5

Plant Care

Your bird's nest fern will grow best in consistently moist soil. This resilient plant is easy to grow, and if you live in a particularly humid area, it can even be planted inside a log as it grows in the wild. For the best conditions, plant your fern in potting soil rich with peat moss and perlite.

Check the soil regularly to ensure it feels evenly moist—but not wet—at all times. About every one to two weeks, water the plant around the edges at its base. If your fern gets bright light, you'll need to water it more often than in the shade.

It's important not to over-fertilize a bird's nest fern. Avoid feeding your fern during the winter months. From spring to summer (roughly April through September), use half-strength, liquid houseplant fertilizer two to three times.

When watering your bird's nest fern, avoid getting any water in the center of the "nest," or central rosette, as this can cause your fern to rot.

Best Growing Conditions for Bird's Nest Ferns

To grow bird's nest ferns successfully, try to simulate their natural growing conditions—a tropical forest—in your space. That means warm air with high humidity and dappled shade or indirect light.

Choose a spot to display your bird’s nest fern where the temperature doesn't drop below 60 degrees at night; 70-80 degrees is the best range to grow a lush, healthy plant. In terms of light, bird's nest ferns do well in partial shade or indirect sun. Avoid displaying your bird's nest fern where it will come into contact with direct sunlight. A north- or east-facing window is best.

If your fern is outside in the shade, add a thick layer of mulch around its base to ensure it retains humidity. Indoors, it's best to display this fern as a bathroom plant where shower steam will boost the humidity in the air. 

Since these plants require so much humidity, give your bird's nest fern an extra boost by misting it or placing its pot on a tray of pebbles with a bit of water added. The evaporating water will add humidity to the air (just be sure the pot is above the waterline). An underwatered bird's nest fern appears dry on its leaves, while overwatered ferns droop and wilt. Both will begin to turn yellow.

During the growing season, tiny new fronds will unfurl from the center of your bird's nest fern. Take care not to touch the young fronds, as they are very delicate and prone to damage.

Types of Bird's Nest Ferns

The common bird's nest fern resembles banana leaves, and it grows on palm trees in its natural environment. Some varieties, like the twisted bird's nest fern, have been bred to emphasize different aspects of their wavy, ribbon-like leaves. A deep-green variant, Asplenium nidus 'Cobra' (cobra fern), has rounded leaves with deep ripples in an upward pattern that resemble the snake's classic look.

Asplenium australasium (crow's nest fern) is a unique variety that features ripples up and down its thin leaves, which curl down toward the center at their tips. A few varieties are classified as endangered: Asplenium serratum, known as the wild bird's nest fern, is a rare find in the wild and at nurseries. Asplenium antiquum is endangered in its native East Asian habitat, but it's common in many American gardens. This variant is known for its bright green color with rippled edges.

hand holding bare-root bird's nest fern with arching, wavy green leaves
The Sill Small Bird’s Nest Fern $46.00

How to Propagate Bird's Nest Ferns

Bird's nest ferns are tricky to propagate. They don't grow baby plants in the form of offsets the way many succulents do, and new plants will not grow from leaf or stem cuttings. Bird's nest ferns cannot be divided—like many other types of ferns, they reproduce via spores held in tiny cases on the underside of their leaves. Here's how to propagate your fern via spores:

Step 1: Wait for the spores to look wide and fuzzy, carefully remove them, then place them in a paper bag to wait as more collect.

Step 2: Sprinkle the spores atop a pot of sphagnum moss and set the pot in a dish of water. Cover it with a clear bag to retain humidity.

Step 3: Place the pot in a hot, shady location. Remove the bag every few weeks to allow fresh air to reach the plants. Wait four to six weeks for the spores to germinate.

Step 4: Once the spores have germinated, they can be cared for as usual as they mature into individual ferns (which may take several months to a year).

Common Problems With Bird's Nest Ferns

Bird's nest ferns are typically easy to care for when given the proper growing conditions, but you may run into problems caused by improper light or water needs. Here's how to diagnose and treat your fern:

Yellow Leaves

Too much light can cause a bird's nest fern's leaves to yellow. If this happens, cut off the affected leaves at the base with a clean, sharp gardening blade and move the plant to a shadier spot away from direct sun.

Pale or Brown Leaves

If your fern's leaves are pale green or brown, it may not be receiving enough water. Be sure your fern's soil stays evenly moist and add more humidity with a humidifier or by misting daily until your plant returns to a healthy, green state.

Crinkled Leaves

Locations with brighter light will cause your bird's nest fern's leaves to crinkle more, while ferns receiving less light will grow flatter. In too much light, the leaves may begin to scorch and turn yellow before dying off. Move your fern to a shadier spot with plenty of humidity to let it heal.

Brown Center

Bird's nest ferns are prone to crown rot when their roots become waterlogged, causing the plant to turn brown at the center. Check the soil moisture in your plant's pot. If it feels soggy, there's a good chance your fern is experiencing root rot. You may not be able to save the plant from crown rot, but you can try repotting it in a container with fresh soil and proper drainage holes. Cut back its watering schedule moving forward.

Potting and Repotting Bird's Nest Ferns

If your bird's nest fern outgrows its pot or becomes unstable on its wood base, it's time to repot the plant. You'll likely only need to give it a new home every two to three years, or when you see roots appearing at the surface of the growing medium.

Bird's nest ferns should be repotted in spring. Choose a larger pot or simply prune the roots (which encourages new growth), then use fresh potting mix in the same container. Be careful when pulling your fern away from an old support log. Help it grasp onto the new wood base with temporary support beams while it learns to hold on.


Are Bird's Nest Ferns Epiphytes?

Yes. Bird's nest ferns grow naturally on the branches of tall trees in the jungle, and if you provide enough humidity, you can grow your fern directly on a log rather than potting it in soil.

How Fast Do Bird's Nest Ferns Grow?

This species is known for its fast growth habits, taking only a few months to half a year to reach maturity.

Are Bird's Nest Ferns Easy to Grow?

Bird's nest ferns are generally regarded as easy plants to grow. The most important conditions to provide are proper humidity, indirect light, and warmth.

Can Bird's Nest Ferns Be Outside?

Depending on where you live, your bird's nest fern might be able to grow outside. This tropical plant can survive in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 and 11, or it can grow indoors in temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees.