Everything You Need to Know About Bird’s Nest Fern Light Requirements at Home

With its shiny, apple-green fronds, the bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus) adds a lush, tropical feel that indoor gardeners prize. This attractive fern is epiphytic in its native habitat of Southeast Asia and Pacific islands, which means it can grow on trees, stumps, and other surfaces. As a houseplant, the bird’s nest fern is a great choice for spots with medium — or even low — light.

How Much Light do Bird’s Nest Ferns Need? – The Essentials

In their native habitat, bird’s nest ferns thrive in dappled light to partial shade. Indoors, this translates to spots with medium indirect light or low light exposures. Place your fern in a north-facing window, near an east-facing window, in filtered light, or even in a darker corner.

Light and Plant Health and Growth: Why it’s Important

Light and Plant Health and Growth: Why it’s Important

Along with appropriate soil, water, nutrients, and air, light plays a vital role in a Bird’s Nest Ferns health. Every plant needs a particular type and exposure to ensure functions and processes run smoothly. But how, exactly, do plants use light, and why is it so important?

First and foremost, light drives a process known as photosynthesis. This is key, as plants use photosynthesis to obtain the nutrients they need to thrive and grow. Here’s a simple summary of how photosynthesis works.

The process starts when light strikes plant foliage. Each leaf contains special cells known as chloroplasts, which contain the substance chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a pigment that provides foliage with its color and, most importantly, allows plants to turn light into energy.

Once light reaches the chloroplasts, special proteins — or light-harvesting complexes (LHCs) — are activated. LHCs transform the light into energy and transfer this energy to each other, eventually reaching throughout the whole plant. As LHCs transfer the energy, chemical reactions cause the release of oxygen and carbon dioxide from water particles.

Plants hang on to the carbon dioxide and let the oxygen go into the air. It’s part of a process known as “gas exchange.” Another byproduct of photosynthesis? The creation of glucose, which is a sugar that provides plants with the energy they need to grow.

What happens when plants don’t get enough light? These processes slow, and plants grow slowly in response. Over time, plants that don’t get enough light will get sick and even die.

However, too much light can harm plants, as well. When light exposure is too intense, soil can dry too quickly, harming — and eventually killing — plants.

What Light Levels Mean

What Light Levels Mean

When plants receive the right amount of light exposure, they thrive. Plants can meet their needs through different types of light exposure, too; some plants prefer direct sunlight, while others live happily with reflected light that bounces off surfaces, or even from artificial grow lights.

To sustain healthy plants, the key lies in determining each particular plant species’ light requirements. There are several categories of light exposure, which include:

  • Bright direct light in which a plant’s foliage is directly exposed to sun or grow lights. Though some succulents and cacti prefer this intense exposure, many houseplants can’t tolerate bright direct light. Bright natural light is usually found in west, south, or south-west facing windows.
  • Bright indirect light is the light of choice for many indoor plants species. Light comes from a nearby window, but the sun doesn’t directly land on plant leaves. Bright indirect light is found in east-facing windows or near west- or south-facing windows.
  • Filtered light is direct light filtered through a sheer layer, such as a curtain. Many plants that prefer bright indirect light can also thrive in filtered light.
  • Low light is usually found in a north-facing window or a corner away from windows.

Determining which type of light exposure is in a particular spot in your home is key to plant placement. Here’s how to test light levels.

Around noon — usually the brightest time of day — stand in the site where you’re considering placing a plant. Hold up your hand and find the shadow it creates. If the shadow is defined and easy to see, that indicates high light levels. A faint, hard-to-see shadow with an undefined outline indicates low light levels.

Obviously, this method doesn’t offer precise light level readings. Use your smartphone to measure “foot candles” (a term for light levels) in your room for more precision. Apps like Lux Light Meter Pro or Light Meter are a good place to start.

For even more precise readings, use a light meter to measure light levels accurately. When using a meter, angle it toward the source of the light, and not in the direction of the plant.

Typical Light Conditions Bird’s Nest Ferns Receive in Their Native Habitats

Typical Light Conditions Bird's Nest Ferns Receive in Their Native Habitats

Bird’s nest ferns are native to southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, Australia, and Madagascar. In these tropical regions, the ferns often grow as epiphytes or plants that grow on tree trunks, logs, or structures. 

As part of the understory of this rainforest habitat, the ferns thrive in dappled light and partial shade conditions.

Signs Your Bird’s Nest Ferns are Receiving Too Much Light

If your bird’s nest fern is receiving too much light, you may notice signs such as:

Signs Your Bird’s Nest Ferns aren’t Receiving Enough Light

Bird’s nest ferns are known for their fronds’ crinkled margins. When the ferns don’t get enough light, the fronds flatten and lose their distinctive crinkle. Keep an eye on how fast your bird nest fern is growing as well.

The Best Light Exposure for Bird’s Nest Ferns Grown Indoors

The Best Light Exposure for Bird's Nest Ferns Grown Indoors

When growing bird’s nest ferns indoors, try to mimic their natural habitat — the understory of the rain forest canopy — as closely as possible. In the wild, the ferns thrive in dappled light and partial shade.

Indoors, choose sites with medium indirect light or low light exposures. Your fern will likely thrive in a north-facing window, near (but not directly in front of) an east-facing window, in filtered light, such as through a sheer curtain, or a corner that only received reflected light.

Bird’s nest ferns require the same light conditions year-round. You may choose to rotate your fern periodically if you notice fronds stretching toward the light.

For past-prime foliage, it’s also worth periodically pruning your bird’s nest fern. In addition, look to repot your plant every two years or so in a fresh soil mix.

Bird’s Nest Ferns Light Requirements FAQs:

Can Bird’s Nest Ferns live in low light? 

Bird’s nest ferns can live in low light conditions, though they prefer medium indirect exposures. When grown in low light, the distinctive crinkle on the margins of the fern’s fronds may flatten over time.

Can Bird’s Nest Ferns take full sun? 

Avoid placing your bird’s nest fern in a spot with full sun or bright direct light. Instead, choose a site with indirect or filtered light, or even a dark corner.

What kind of light do Bird’s Nest Ferns need? 

Bird’s nest ferns thrive in indirect, medium- to low-light exposures. A north-facing window or near an east-facing window are usually good choices to ensure the right amount of light.

Will a Bird’s Nest Ferns live happily indoors? 

Bird’s nest ferns are relatively easy to grow indoors. Just be sure to provide the right light (medium to low indirect light), soil that’s moist but never wet, and warm, high humidity environments, such as those found in a bathroom.

How do you know if your Bird’s Nest Fern is getting enough light? 

A bird’s nest fern that’s getting enough light will have shiny, apple-green fronds with crinkled margins. A plant with yellowed, dying fronds or that grows slowly is likely getting too much light, while a plant with flattened fronds may need more light.

Wrapping Up

Glossy, crinkled fronds and an attractive rosette form make the bird’s nest fern a lovely addition to the indoor garden. This tropical epiphyte is also suitable for humid spots with medium to low light in the home. Providing the proper environmental conditions is key to a fern that thrives.


Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.

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