Common Laua’e Fern31 August
Common Laua’e Fern
Common names can be confusing, and often the same common name is used for different plants or plant species. This is true for the common laua‘e fern in Hawaii. Microsorum scolopendria, the Australian species of “laua‘e“ has been in Hawaii for so long that many people think it’s the endemic Hawaiian Laua’e Fern, Microsorum spectrum. Somewhat confusingly, these two attractive fern species in Hawai‘i share the name laua‘e. One is endemic to these islands, i.e., found only in Hawaii(Microsorum spectrum); the other hails from Western Australia (Microsorum scolopendria).
The common Laua’e fern was introduced to Hawaii in the late 1910s and has subsequently naturalized and is found on all main islands. More beautiful and far less common, the native Hawaiian laua‘e (Microsorum spectrum) grows in rain-soaked, low-elevation forest — though you’re more likely to find it in a greenhouse than in the wild. The Hawaiian laua‘e also exudes a signature scent, one celebrated in old chants and mele (songs). The native Hawaiian laua‘e (Microsorum spectrum) is so rare it has been replaced in cultural hula practices with the non-native fern, Microsorum scolopendria, which is more common. Traditionally, true Laua’e was used to scent kapa cloth with its delicate maile like fragrance as well as in lei making and for native spiritual practices including hula. Both species are beloved by lei makers and Hawaiian cultural practitioners either way.