Bird's nest fern


I'd hate to meet the bird that made its home in this nest.

No bird in this nest

I like dinosaurs. Iím not sure why. When I was a little Bert, (dinosaurs had actually become extinct many million years previously, before you say anything), I was fascinated by them.

Most of us know that they died out hundreds of million years before man came along; after all, most of us have seen Jurassic Park. Creationists believe that dinosaurs are much more recent though. According to one of their more entertaining websites,, they mention ancient pictures of so-called dinosaurs that are ďclearly from the post-Flood periodĒ.

They also talk about ďhundreds of dinosaur pictures that have been found around the world. When added to the stories about dinosaurs (dragons) from cultures around the world. This all clearly shows that dinosaurs and people lived together until approximately 1500 years ago.Ē Sorry about the grammar there Ė not mine. The whole thing is complete twaddle in more ways that one, obviously.

I thought modern kids would grow up feeling as I did; perhaps just a bit excited about the dinosaur world. It was only recently that an ingratiatingly irritating purple dinosaur started to appear on television. Barney. I didnít realize that I could hate something on TV quite that much.

A grown man in a giant furry purple dinosaur outfit singing songs that make you want to vomit, surrounded by kids who are just soÖ well, gee.. nice. Yeuch. Theyíre all telling each other how itís good to be Ďniceí Ė this stuff is so sickly it raises the question of whether there may be a place for weapons of mass destruction in society after all.

Dinosaurs should be a dull prehistoric grey, not purple, they shouldnít be able to speak, and certainly not tell everyone how much they love them. Dinosaurs are big and ugly, and have names that kind of fit them. Thereís nothing cute or cuddly about a tyrannosaurus rex or a veloceraptor Ė they just want to kill other animals and eat them.

Even the vegetarians of the Jurassic era Ė monsters such as the stegosaurus, diplodocus and the brontosaurus Ė were huge. Apparently, all they all they really did was breed, eat leaves and shrubs and hang around waiting to be eaten. What do you expect from an animal with a brain the size of a pea. I liked them, anyway.

Imagine the biggest bird youíve ever seen. And then imagine itís actually a lot bigger; maybe dinosaur-sized. Then picture its nest. The birdís nest fern is probably a little similar to that. Itís one of the most aptly-named plants around; whoever first came up with this must have been thinking of some kind of bird out of Jurassic Park Ė the child in me thinks it would probably be a pterodactyl (is that spelt right, Mr Editor person?).

As the name suggests, the birdís nest fern is a fern that looks like, well, a birdís nest. There isnít a great deal to it really. It consists only of a number of long, shiny, leathery leaves, and not much else. The large leaves grow in a rosette sort of shape, around a central, densely hairy crown, and like most ferns, they slowly unwrap themselves from the middle, with the lower leaves dying off at a similar rate.

This unusual plant sometimes grows on the ground, but appears more often in nature as an epiphyte, on the trunks of trees like the ones in the picture. In case you care about this kind of thing, an epiphyte is a plant that grows on another, without being a parasite, obtaining nutrients from decaying leaves and other debris, and moisture from the air without rooting into the soil.

The birdís nest fern, or asplenium nidus, traps falling leaves and other debris amongst its fronds. Roots grow out from its stems into the decaying plant matter to absorb nutrients. Look below one of these plants, and youíll see a forest of fine roots, reaching out for whatever they can find to feed on.

The ancestral home of the birds nest fern was Madagascar. Why is it that so many of the plants we find in this part of the world today originally come from this seemingly insignificant island off the coast of Africa. 

Birdís nest ferns look impressive in any tropical garden, and will give it a sort of jungle feel. Itís also perfectly suited to life in Phuket. It needs watering fairly often, but itís fairly laid back about the idea. It is quite possible to neglect it, and it doesnít seem to mind.

What it is quite particular about is where it lives. Itís used to the shade, and usually colonizes trees, rock faces and boulders in humid, tropical rainforests, so it isnít much of a sun-worshipper. In fact put it in direct sunlight, and it will quickly scream at you in protest by turning its leaves a rather depressing shade of beigy brown.

Eventually reaching about a meter and a half tall and wide, the birdís nest fern is a striking plant to use next to doors and entrances, or in containers in any spot where it will attract attention Ė itís impressive. Although in the wild it prefers to attach itself to other trees, it will happily survive in a pot. You can even grow it in the ground, but the soil should be very well-drained.

The plants should be kept moist generally, but if itís in a pot, and the soil becomes heavy or waterlogged you should find it a new home. Put a few woodchips in the soil and plenty of broken pot pieces around the drainage holes in the base, and that should help. The plant doesnít like heavy soil very much and will commit ritual hari kari if itís left unchecked.

The large, apple-green leaves have a black, prominent midrib which appears as the fronds age. Spores appear often on the underside of leaves, which is how it reproduces.

If youíre feeling adventurous, you can do this yourself by collecting the ripe spores on a piece of paper placed under spore bearing leaves. Sow the spores on damp peat moss. Do this somewhere thatís not too warm, although the idea is certainly easier than the reality in Phuket. The growing medium should be kept constantly moist and covered with glass or plastic. Once new plants are large enough to handle they can be transplanted into individual containers.

The birdís nest fern is certainly weird. With one of these in your back garden, just live in the hope that an unknown giant Madagascan bird doesnít try to reclaim it as its home. Start shooting skyward immediately if itís purple and telling you he loves you. Please.


home  |  about bert  |  articles by plant  | articles by rant

Phuket Gazette  |  contact bert  | © Bloomin' Bert 2003-2012