Ua nani ka noho a Waipuhia
E hooma`u nei i ke oho palai
"Beautiful is the resting place of Waipuhia wind
That wets the palapalai fern"
There is something soothing about a stand of palapalai ferns. Perhaps it is the vibrant green, or the lacy softness they add to the landscape. And it doesn't hurt that the fine hairs on the fronds sparkle in sunlight that filters to the forest floor. Interesting that the early Hawaiians used the fern as a treatment for hehena (translation: insanity) according to the Hawaiian Enthnobotany online database. Palapalai is also valued as a plant sacred to the hula goddess Laka, and softly encircles the head, wrists, and ankles of the dancers of hula kahiko.
As with other ferns, palapalai are valuable because they help retain moisture and humidity while enriching the soil. They prefer shady spots, though they can tolerate some sun, and are useful for weed and erosion control. Growing up to three feet in height with a five to six foot spread, palapalai are native to Hawaii and Southeast Asia. Known as Microlepia strigosa to botanists, the fern is a member of the family Dennstaedtiaceae, the Bracken Fern family. Like others in its family, the palapalai's fronds are highly divided into leaflets, called pinnae. On fertile fronds, the reproductive structures, called spores, are found in casings called sporangia. These, in turn, can clump together in what are known as sori. On the palapalai, you will find the sori at the margin of the leaflets (pinnae) on the underside of the frond.
Palapalai can be confused with another native lace fern: Pala'a, or Sphenomeris chinensis, which is widespread, and one you will most likely encounter trailside. This fern, which is also used in lei making, can be found on exposed banks and is quick to establish itself in disturbed sites. The best way to tell the two apart is to look for the hairs: palaplai has them, pala'a doesn't. Pala'a also is lacier and has thinner fronds.
welcomes you to visit with the all the wonderful flora and fauna that we share this lovely aina with.