OAKLEAF FERN (specific) | BASKET FERN (general)

(Above) In this photo, you can clearly spot the Oakleaf Fern's two kinds of leaves: short brown 'nest' leaves, and long green 'foliage' leaves.

COMMON NAME: Oakleaf fern


SCIENTIFIC NAME: Drynaria quercifolia

FAMILY: Polypodiaceae


Hanumana hastha, Hanumana paada (Kannada)

Matilpanna, Panna-kelengo-maravara, Pannakilhannumaravala, Welli-panna-kelengu-maravara (Malayalam)

Ashvakatri, Basingh (Marathi)

Pannakkilannu (Malayalam, Tamil)

DISTRIBUTION: Asia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Polynesia and tropical Australia

DESCRIPTION: Commonly seen epiphyte thickly covering the branches of old trees, especially along roadsides

Besides the nest leaves, Oakleaf ferns also have long, green foliage leaves, which bear ‘spores’ on their underside, through which the plant reproduces. These spores are what set ferns apart from most other plants, which reproduce through flowers and seeds. Ferns, in fact, constitute an ancient group of plants, some as old as the Carboniferous Period (which began about 350 million years ago). Their type of life cycle, dependent upon spores for dispersal, appeared long before the seed-plant life cycle that we are so familiar with today. Indeed, ferns flourished in the age of dinosaurs, until they were later overtaken by the rise of flowering plants.

There are numerous species of baskets ferns. The oakleaf fern is a particular kind of epiphytic basket fern.


An epiphyte is a plant that grows harmlessly upon another plant for its whole life. Basket ferns are characterised by two kinds of leaves: short, sterile ‘nest’ leaves and long ‘foliage’ leaves. The nest leaves start off green, but eventually turn brown and die—but rather than shed them, the plant keeps them on in the form of a sort of basket at the plant’s base. This basket is used to collect litter and organic debris—falling leaves, flowers, twigs, animal droppings and more—which decompose into humus, providing the plants with nutrients they would otherwise not have received from being suspended above ground. They are plants that make their own compost, thereby giving themselves access to a private supply of nutrients! They also host a whole lot of other organisms in their baskets. Some of these inhabitants aid the plant by accelerating decomposition, but others compete for nutrients with the host plant. Oakleaf ferns are so called because their nest leaves resemble the leaves of an oak tree.

(Below) In this photo, you can clearly see the spores on the underside of the oakleaf fern's foliage leaves.

© All images on this page are the work and property of Prasanjeet Yadav