Maidenhair fern growing from a wet, rocky cliffside.
Stable

Maidenhair Fern

Adiantum sp.
  • Division: Pteridophyta
  • Class: Pteridopsida
  • Order: Polypodiales
  • Family: Adiantaceae
  • Genus: Adiantum
  • Species: More than 200

Overview

It was the long, thin, black stipes of this fern that inspired its common name: they were said to look like the long, dark hair of a maiden. Maidenhair ferns are a large group of perennial, evergreen ferns that can grow to about three feet. Requiring fairly warm and humid conditions, these ferns are found in shaded, moist areas where they grow on rock faces and in crevices of cliffs, on banks and ledges along streams and rivers, or close to natural hot springs. The foliage of these popular ferns comes in a wide variety of forms and sizes, some with ruffled or scalloped edges, some spear-shaped, and some fan-shaped, all creating a delicate and alluring effect.

Characteristics

The fronds of the maidenhair fern unfold from the stipes to display apple green to dark green pinnules (leaflets). Some of the North American species that are popular houseplants have delicate pinnules, which together form lacy, overlapping fronds. Maidenhair ferns have short, creeping, underground rhizomes covered in small, brown scales. The scales sometimes make the rhizomes appear reddish or golden.

Cultivation

Maidenhair ferns like a humid environment and to be placed in a sheltered, shady spot. Because they are native to temperate climates with high humidity, often in protected forests and along springs and streams, they don’t tolerate frost or windy conditions, and direct sunlight will burn their foliage.

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Many Maidens

The greatest diversity of maidenhair ferns is in the Andes. There are also more than 40 species in China.

 

Pour It on the Pate?

Two hundred years ago, an elixir made from maidenhair fern was thought to cure baldness when rubbed on the scalp. It was all the rage in Europe—even though it was actually ineffective.

 

Water Wise

The genus name Adiantum comes from the Greek adiantos, which means “unwetted” and refers the way that maidenhair fern fronds repel water downward to the ground and their roots.