Are you growing a hen & chickens fern at home? If so, chances are it’s a fake, unless you dug it out of the bush.
Hen & chickens ferns get their common name from their production of bulbils, or vegetative outgrowths, on the upperside of their fronds. These bulbils are the ‘chickens’ and the fronds are the mother ‘hen’. The bulbils can grow into new individuals, as a clone of their parent.
True hen & chickens fern – Asplenium bulbiferum – is found in the wild only in New Zealand.
In addition to Asplenium bulbiferum, one other hen & chickens fern is native to New Zealand: Asplenium gracillimum. It is also native to Australia. Asplenium gracillimum is an allopolyploid of Asplenium bulbiferum and Asplenium hookerianum, being derived from hybridisation and a doubling of chromosome number.
Occasional plants of Asplenium gracillimum have very narrow frond segments. These have sometimes been incorrectly called Asplenium bulbiferum variety tripinnatum.
Most hen & chickens in cultivation are actually sterile hybrid plants properly called Asplenium ×lucrosum, despite usually being mislabelled by plant-sellers as Asplenium bulbiferum. Asplenium ×lucrosum is not native to New Zealand, but is a hybrid that arose in cultivation; its origin is a fascinating story.
Asplenium ×lucrosum and Asplenium bulbiferum are frequently confused, and not only by plant nurseries: most books and websites pertaining to illustrate Asplenium bulbiferum actually feature Asplenium ×lucrosum!
Close relatives of the Asplenium bulbiferum and Asplenium gracillimum hen & chickens ferns are Asplenium hookerianum and the cave spleenwort, Asplenium cimmeriorum.