There are many folk tales and economic usage of the bird’s nest fern which collectively refers to three or four kinds of fern species found in the archipelago.
Asplenium nidus grown on top of a big concrete vat (kawa)
Asplenium musifolium or Pakong Babae/ Pugad Lawin na Babae is one of the most common ferns in the market. The female one refers to the shape of the leaves. The Pakong babae has rounded leaftip in contrast to the more common Asplenium nidus or “Pakong Lalake” which has pointed leaf tip.
These are commonly in demand among landscapers and are planted en mass by ornamental plant farms.
These two kinds of ferns are commonly used in landscaping projects and added accents to big trees, manicured gardens or palms.
While another Philippine bird’s nest fern which is sometimes called Asplenium leytensis have leaf tip much broader and rounder in shape compared to Asplenium musifolium.
Drynaria quercifolia perch on top of an old rain tree / monkey pod tree (Albizia saman ) within Manila Chinese Cemetery
Some people refer Drynaria quercifolia is also referred to pakpak lawin, paypaymo or bird’s nest fern.
Folk Tales and Superstitious Beliefs
People in the bicol region would refer Asplenium nidus as Manalo/ Manalu. Some people believe that it brings wealth when place or planted near one’s entrance. The light green leaves are symbol of money and positive energy.
Another tale is that it brings wealth to the owners, specially when grown lush and big.
Asplenium nidus and Dischidia ionantha ( Manaog ka Irog)
fern sellers would use the roots of Drynaria quercifolia then mount Asplenium nidus and Dischidia ionantha. These are commonly sold as hanging plants.
Asplenium nidus fronds for sale in Taiwan ( photo courtesy of Mr. Li Chen )
In Taiwan and parts of mainland China, Asplenium nidus fronds (It is pronounced shān sũ) are use for cooking.
The young fronds are typically cut into inch-long pieces, fried with garlic and chili peppers. Sometimes these are also sauteed with pieces of pork or beef meat.
There are also some reports in some parts of Batanes and northern Philippines, that locals would also eat the young fronds (although unverified).
Aside from incorporating these ferns into the landscape. Some growers mount orchids or other ferns together with Asplenium nidus– These create some sort of symbiotic relationship as fern roots provide additional moisture around the roots of orchids.
Fern roots can be sustainably harvested from time to time. Fern roots are gathered then boiled for about 15 to 20 minutes to remove the dirt and spores among other stuffs.
The fern roots are locally called (pasdak) can be use for planting media for orchids , hoyas and ferns.
DENR list Asplenium nidus ( Dapong Lalaki/ Pugad Lawin ), Asplenium vittaeforme and Drynaria quercifolia (Pakpak Lawin, Paypaymo, Paipaimo ) under local list of endangered species or vulnerable, It was even published at Wildlife Act R.A. 9147 as endangered species. When it is common species that is often encountered on big trees even within Metro Manila.
At one time, These fern species are so common, that even residents in Metro Manila would consider them as weeds. Some plant experts would disagree that these ferns must be excluded in the list, since these are quite common.
Note: Photos are taken by the author
Department of Environment and Natural Resources- Wildlife Act R.A. No. 9147: pages 172-199
Ohlsen DJ, Perrie LR, Shepherd LD, Brownsey PJ, Bayly MJ (2015). “Phylogeny of the fern family Aspleniaceae in Australasia and the south-western Pacific”. Australian Systematic Botany. 27 (6): 355–71.
Olsen, Sue, Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns, Timber Press, Incorporated (March 1, 2007) ISBN-10: 0881928194 and ISBN-13: 978-0881928198
Madulid, Dr. Domingo, A Pictorial Cyclopedia of Philippine Ornamental Plant, ( 1995) Book,Mark Inc. ( first edition): pages,21, 22 and 23.
Wee Yeow Chin, Ferns of the Tropics, July 1st 1998 by Timber Press