How to Grow Bird's Nest Fern

Everything you need to know about this unusual tropical houseplant.

A bird's nest fern with ruffled green leaves

cordimages / Getty Images

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. This fern features wavy lance-shaped leaves extending two to three feet 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 in a hanging basket or a macrame planter. 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 with 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 an old log, just like 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 rather than directly into the central rosette. 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. During spring and summer (roughly April through September), use half-strength, liquid houseplant fertilizer two to three times throughout the growing season.

During this time, tiny new fronds will unfurl from the center of your fern. Take care not to touch the young fronds, as they are very delicate. Avoid feeding your fern during the winter months. 

If your bird's nest fern has outgrown its pot or become unstable on its wood base, it's time to replant. 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), and use fresh potting mix in the same container. Be careful when pulling the fern away from old support logs: Help it grasp onto its new wood base with temporary support beams while it learns to hold on.

Best Growing Conditions for Bird's Nest Fern

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

hand holding bare-root bird's nest fern with arching, wavy green leaves
The Sill Small Bird’s Nest Fern $46

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). Another option is to display your fern with other tropical houseplants like bromeliads, pothos, or prayer plants, and then run a humidifier nearby to help keep all your moisture-loving plants happy. Bird's nest ferns can also do well in terrariums or greenhouses, thanks to the closed systems that hold in moisture and humidity. 

In terms of light, bird's nest ferns do well in partial shade or indirect sun. A north- or east-facing window, where the light is weaker, can provide the ideal conditions. Locations with more light will cause your bird's nest fern's leaves to crinkle more, while ferns receiving less light will grow flatter. 

Avoid displaying your bird's nest fern where it will come into contact with direct sunlight, with the exception of weaker morning light in an east-facing window.

Bird's Nest Fern Varieties

The common Asplenium nidus fern we see at most nurseries resembles banana leaves, and it grows on palm trees in its natural environment. Some varieties, like 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 also 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.

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

How to Propagate Bird's Nest Fern

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 the leaf or stem cuttings. Unlike some other similar species, bird's nest ferns cannot be divided.

Rather, bird's nest ferns, like many other ferns, reproduce via spores held in tiny cases on the underside of their leaves. To propagate from spores, wait for the spores to look wide and fuzzy, carefully remove them, and place them in a paper bag to wait as more collect. Next, sprinkle them atop a pot of sphagnum moss, and set the pot in a dish of water. Simply cover the pot with a clear bag; place the pot in a hot, shady location; and wait four to six weeks until the spores germinate.

Common Growing Problems

Too much light can cause a bird's nest fern 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.

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

Related Stories