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Adiantum spp. L. 1753
pronounced: ADD-ee-an-tum species
(Pteridaceae – the maidenhair fern family)
common name: maidenhair fern
Adiantum is derived from the Greek αδιαντος (adiantos), unwetted – the fronds repel water. There are some 200 species and many cultivars, a small selection of which is described below. These ferns are attractive soft and lacy plants, and very rewarding to grow. They have one major drawback: if they are allowed to dry out, the foliage quickly browns and the plant appears to die. They will recover, however, given the right care.
They are finely foliaged, and most species can grow to about a metre in height, but are normally smaller. They grow from underground rhizomes and, when mature, have black or brownish leaf stalks from which the fronds unfold to show their apple-green leaflets. New leaflets are a light green, and darken as they age. The range of leaf shapes and growth habits is large. Various species and cultivars are much used as filler foliage in flower arrangements and bouquets.
Maidenhair ferns like:
- to be kept moist;
- to be brightly lit when indoors, but to be in a very shady spot if outdoors;
- to be sheltered and away from draughts.
Maidenhair ferns hate:
- to dry out, even for a few hours;
- dark positions when inside – but don't put them in direct sunlight, which can burn them;
If a fern dries out and turns brown, it should be cut off a ground level while still in the pot, and then put outside in a shady spot, where it will usually regenerate after a few months. If it has only just begun to dry out, plunge the pot into a bucket of water, keeping it submerged until air bubbles stop rising to the surface. Problems with drying out can usually be avoided by keeping the ferns in self-watering pots.
Reproduction is from spores, produced and contained in sporangia, which are grouped into clusters known as sori, on the outer edges of the leaf’s lower surface. The edges of the leaves fold over to form a false indusium.
Adiantum chilense var. sulphureum (Kaulf.) Kunze ex. Hicken1763
pronounced: ADD-ee-an-tum chill-ENSE variety sul-FER-ee-um
synonym: Adiantum aethiopicum L. 1753
pronounced: ADD-ee-an-tum ee-thee-OH-pik-um
common name: common maidenhair fern
Chilkense is botanical Latin for 'from Chile'; sulphureum is from the Latin sulphureus, yellow like sulphur, and æthiopicus is Latin for Ethiopian. The mother species appears to be a native of Chile, but the variety shown here seems to be native to Africa, Australia, Norfolk Island and New Zealand. It grows in river and creek banks and in damp semi-shaded positions in open forest, in spreading clumps of fronds from 10 - 45 cm in height. The rhizomes are wiry and branched, and they creep near the soil surface and spread extensively underground. The fronds are 2 – 4-pinnate, stalks of the ultimate segments attached at the centre of their bases; the segments are 3 – 8 cm long, membranous, pale green, the outer margin lobed or finely toothed, the stipe reddish brown to dark brown to very dark red-brown. The fern is capable of forming large colonies.
Some Aboriginal tribes used the fern medicinally, making from the fronds a soothing syrup for coughs and colds.
Adiantum capillus-veneris L. 1753
pronounced: ADD-ee-an-tum cap-ILL-uss VEN-er-iss
common name: Venus maidenhair fern
The specific is Latin, capillus, hair, and veneris, of Venus. This is a delicate-looking, drooping fern with distinctive fan-shaped segments, with many clustered fronds on wiry black stems. It spreads by short creeping rhizomes that are covered in small brown scales, that are sometimes reddish brown or golden. The fronds are arching and hairless, and occasionally there is a bluish green or waxy tinge to the normally pale green leaves. These are pinnate, the individual leaflets often lobed or toothed along their margins.
The fronds are sometimes used as a garnish on sweet dishes, and the dried fronds are used to make a tea used to treat coughs, throat infections and bronchitis. The fern was the main ingredient of a Victorian patent medicine known as Capillaire, a widely used cough syrup. In some countries, a poultice is made from the fronds to treat stings and bites. In Nepal, a paste made from the fronds is applied to the head to relieve headaches.
Adiantum pedatum L. 1753
pronounced: ADD-ee-an-tum ped-AH-tum
common name: northern maidenhair fern
Pedatus is Latin, having feet. This is a North American native, from Alaska to Quebec and Nova Scotia, south to California and Georgia, and is also found in east Asia, in rich deciduous woodlands from sea level to about 700 m. It is deciduous, clump-forming, and grows to about 60 cm tall. It is most frequently found on rich wooded slopes, ravine bottoms and damp shady woods. The fronds are finely-textured and somewhat frilly, with curved stalks and are palmately divided. The wiry stems, when mature, are reddish brown to black. New fronds first emerge as pink fiddleheads.
pronounced: ADD-ee-an-tum rad-dee-AU-num FRAG-ranz
common name: delta maidenhair fern
Raddianum is named for Giuseppe Raddi (1770 – 1829) an Italian botanist who collected plants in Brazil and Egypt. Adiantum raddianum is from tropical America and the West Indies, is one of the most popular amongst gardeners everywhere, and its cultivar ‘Fragrans’ is probably the most grown maidenhair fern in Australia. Triangular 3- or 4-pinnate fronds with dark stalks emerge from a dense rootstock of short branching rhizomes. Fan-shaped pinnae emerge light green, but darken with age. The fronds typically grow to about 30 cm wide and 45 cm long. It thrives in high humidity, difficult to provide within a house (some growers use the bathroom!), and so it is more often grown in a frequently misted environment in a fernery.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay, 2014.
Page last updated 1st October 2016