Psilotum nudum

leaf Main Plant Information





Hawaiian Names with Diacritics

  • Moa
  • Moa nehele
  • Pipi
  • ʻOʻō moa

Hawaiian Names

  • Moa
  • Moa nehele
  • Oo moa
  • Pipi

Common Names

  • Cocks crow
  • Forest moa
  • Upright whiskfern


  • Lycopodium nudum
  • Psilotum nudum var. oahuense
  • Psilotum oahuensis
  • Psilotum triquetrum

leaf Plant Characteristics

Distribution Status


Endangered Species Status

No Status

Plant Form / Growth Habit

  • Non-Woody, Spreading

Mature Size, Height (in feet)

  • Fern/Fern-like, Short, Less than 1
  • Fern/Fern-like, Medium, 1 to 3

Mature Size, Width

From 1 to 2 feet

Life Span

Long lived (Greater than 5 years)

Landscape Uses

  • Accent
  • Container
  • Ground Cover

Additional Landscape Use Information

Moa is one of few native plants that voluntarily spring up in some of the most unlikely places. While some consider it rather weedy, others allow this unique species to grow. They fill in a spot in the landscape with a texture and a type of grace that enhance and do not over power accompanying plants.

Suggested companion plants are native trees and hāpuʻu. [3]

Moa also looks nice in and around lava boulders or moss rocks or growing at the base of hāpuʻu or on their trunks.

Plant Produces Flowers


leaf Leaf Characteristics

Plant texture

  • Fine
  • Medium

Additional Plant Texture Information

The stems of the two Psilotum species have characteristic features:

  • Moa* or Upright whiskfern (P. nudum) are upright plants with triangle-shaped stems. This can been seen when stems are cut horizonally and thus showing a triangular shape.
  • Moa nahele* or Flat-stemmed whiskfern (P. complanatum) are plants that droop downward with flat, pancake-like stems, when cut horizonally.

It's all in the common name!

* Both species are called Moa or Moa nahele, as well as pipi, in the Hawaiian language. To distinguish between the two species in the text, this website has chosen to use Moa for Psilotum nudum and Moa nahele for Psilotum complanatum.

Leaf Colors

  • Dark Green
  • Medium Green

Additional Leaf Color Information

Moa do not produce flowers. But the distinctive yellow, sometimes bright yellow, sporangia (spore cases) are noticeable on the upper stems especially on the green plants.

The branching stems range in color from bright green to yellow or yellowish-orange depending on the habitat and amount of exposure to sunlight. In wetter, shadier areas moa are greener, while those growing in drier, full sun conditions tend to be yellower.

leaf Pests and Diseases

Additional Pest & Disease Information

Moa doesn't seem to be bothered much by pests.

leaf Growth Requirements


Light feedings. [3]

Pruning Information

Older, dead stems can be removed. [3]

Water Requirements

  • Dry
  • Moist

Soil must be well drained


Light Conditions

  • Full sun
  • Partial sun
  • Shade

Spacing Information

If planting moa for cultivation, 6 inches apart is recommended. [3]


  • Wind
  • Heat


  • Cinder
  • Organic
  • Coral


Moa has a poor salt tolerance. [3]

Special Growing Needs

If repotting divisions, keep them moist in shade for the first two weeks. [3]

In humid areas or at specific times of the year, the plants are greener and more lush. [3]

leaf Environmental Information

Natural Range

  • Niʻihau
  • Kauaʻi
  • Oʻahu
  • Molokaʻi
  • Lānaʻi
  • Maui
  • Kahoʻolawe
  • Hawaiʻi
  • Northwest Islands

Natural Zones (Elevation in feet, Rainfall in inches)

  • Less than 150, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • Less than 150, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • Less than 150, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 150 to 1000, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 150 to 1000, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 150 to 1000, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 1000 to 1999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 1000 to 1999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 1000 to 1999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 2000 to 2999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 2000 to 2999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 2000 to 2999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 3000 to 3999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 3000 to 3999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 3000 to 3999, Greater than 100 (Wet)
  • 4000 to 4999, 0 to 50 (Dry)
  • 4000 to 4999, 50 to 100 (Mesic)
  • 4000 to 4999, Greater than 100 (Wet)


  • Epiphyte
  • Lithophyte
  • Terrestrial

Additional Habitat Information

Moa is a pantropical species found on all the Main Hawaiian Islands in dry to wet areas from near sea level to 4000 feet on rocks, lava flows, and as epiphytically on tree trunks and forks of branches. It can be weedy in urban areas growing in nearly every environment.

A collection of Psilotum nudum made in 1923 from Midway Atoll was discovered in 2008 in the collections of the Herbarium Pacificum (Bishop Museum). [7]


leaf Special Features and Information

General Information

Psilotum belong to the Whisk-fern family (Psilotaceae) with only two wide spread species: Psilotum complanatum and P. nudus. Both species are indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands.


The generic name is from the Greek psilos, naked or smooth, alluding to the smooth aerial stems without leaves.

The specific epithet  is from the Latin nudus, bare or naked, in reference to the naked nature of the stems.

So then, the apparently redundant name Psilotum nudum refers to a really naked, naked plant!

Hawaiian Names:

Moa nahele literally means "forest chicken." Moa is chicken, referring to a chickens' comb, and reference to the fronds.

Background Information

The two native species of moa (Psilotum spp.) can hybridize when found together.

In the Hawaiian Islands, the hybrid is an infrequent to locally common plant found in mesic to wet forests, from 1640 to about 2790 feet, on Kauaʻi, Oʻahu (particularly in the Waiʻanae Mountains), Lānaʻi, and Maui and is referred to as Psilotum x intermedium.

Early Hawaiian Use

Games & Sports:

Early Hawaiian children would play a simple game of moa nahele (lit., chicken vegetation). Plants in Hawaiian Culture explains how this game was played: “Two children sat or stood facing one another, each holding a branched stem of moa. These they interlocked and then slowly pulled apart until the branches of one broke. The other child, without broken branches, was the winner and announced his victory by crowing like a rooster (moa).” [1,5,6] One of the names ʻoʻō moa in fact means "cock's crow."


Moa was also used in lei making by early Hawaiians. [1]


Moa (Psilotum spp.) was used for kūkae paʻa (constipation) in newborn babies and elderly men and women. It was also mixed with other plants to treat akepau (tuberculosis, consumption), and various respiratory conditions. [2] Additionally, extracts from moa were used as laxatives. A tea, using the whole plant, was brewed and contains cathartic properties to purge the bowels. [5] The spores were used for diarrhea in infants and used like talcum powder to prevent chafing from loincloths. [4,5,6]

Modern Use

Moa continues to be a part modern lei making for the neck, head, wrist, ankle, and horse. [3]

They can also be used in floral arrangement and have a vase life of a week or two. [3]

Additional References

[1] "Plants in Hawaiian Culture" by Beatrice H. Krauss, pages 77, 88, 325.

[2] "Native Hawaiian Medicine--Volume III" by The Rev. Kaluna M. Kaʻaiakamanu, pages 74, 75.

[3] "Growing Plants for Hawaiian Lei" by CTAHR (College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources), Universirty of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, pages 32, 33.

[4] "Ferns of Hawaiʻi" by Kathy Valier, page 4.

[5] "In Gardens of Hawaii" by Marie C. Neal, page 1.

[6] "Ethnobotany of Hawaii" by Beatrice H. Krauss, page 165.

[7] "Current Status of Ferns and Lycophytes" by Amanda L. Vernon & Tom A. Ranker, page 65.



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