Scientific Name: Microlepia strigosa
Indigenous: All HI
Description: Medium sized ferns that grow to be about 2-3+ ft. tall. Fronds are very soft and are usually light to medium green in color. Individual blades and midrib are usually very hairy as described by its Latin species name, striga which means short bristle like hairs. The degree of hairiness ranges from light to very heavy and are acknowledged as separate varieties.
Distribution: Palapalai is an indigenous fern meaning that it is native to Hawaii but also other places. Here it is found on all the main islands in usually mesic forests but occasionally in dry or even wet forests as well, from near sea level all the way up to about 5000 ft. elevation.
Cultural Uses: Palapalai is a very important plant in Hawaiian culture, primarily for Hula. It is one of the plants Kapu (sacred) to Laka, the goddess of hula, it is also used to adorn the Hula altar and dancer as well and is highly sought after for making lei. Many songs and chants also refer to palapalai for its beauty and cultural importance.
Landscape Uses: For years palapalai has been sold in stores and used in landscapes here in Hawaii and throughout the world. Although, chances are these are not the ones native to Hawaii, they most likely came from Asia where they are also native. Even the ferns that are normally sold here as “palapalai” are propagated either in the mainland or sometimes Mexico then shipped to nurseries in Hawaii. So, once you get the Hawaiian variety, you can plant them in any semi-shaded area like under the eve of your house, at the base of a larger tree, or even kept in a bright room with daily misting. Daily watering is ok once planted in the ground and routine application of compost, mulch or fertilizer will keep it looking full and green. Keep it in a more protected area since they can be prone to wind damage.
Additional Info: This fern is also known as palai, and there are many other ferns, both native and non-native that have palai in part of their name. Palapalai is also the name on the island of Ni’ihau for another native fern more commonly known as ‘okupukupu (Nephrolepis exaltata).Palapalai