What is a Maidenhair Fern?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2019
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A maidenhair fern, also known as adiantum, is any one of the 200 species of fern in the family Pteradaceae. Known for its easy care and delicate fronds, the maidenhair has long been a beloved choice for houseplants and shade gardens. Grown throughout the world, maidenhair ferns are often easy to find at nurseries and garden supply centers, and make an excellent plant for a beginning gardener.

Ferns are some of the oldest plants on Earth, dating back at least 360 million years. When plants gained standing across the primitive planet, ferns flourished, existing in enormous populations during the late Cretaceous period. Though delicate and fragile, ancestors of the maidenhair fern existed throughout the age of the dinosaurs, surviving vast climate shifts and the rise of man to continue their existence even to the present day.

The maidenhair fern genus is notable for its black stems and delicate fans of foliage. Though they do not flower, they are known for their water-repellent leaves; the word adiantum translates from Greek to mean “not wetting.” Despite this unusual characteristic, maidenhair ferns typically grow in humid environments, such as alongside tropical waterfalls.


Outdoors, the maidenhair fern should be planted in shade or dappled sunlight, to avoid burning or drying the leaves. Inside, the plants do best in indirect light, making them versatile houseplants. Watering should be done every two or three days, making sure that soil remains damp and never dries out. Misting water on the soil and plant is generally suggested as the best way to ensure an adequate supply of water for the fern; either use a hand mister or a misting attachment on a hose.

If winters are cold, consider wintering the plant indoors where it can be kept at a more moderate temperature. While maidenhair ferns can survive mild winters, their fronds will die off during cold months. In spring, the plant will throw out new fronds as warmer weather returns. Plants will thrive best in tropical, subtropical, or temperate climates with warm winters.

The shade- and humidity-loving maidenhair fern is an excellent choice for landscaping around water features such as ponds, fountains, and waterfalls. Adding an exotic, tropical air to any garden, maidenhairs can turn an ordinary space into a jungle wonderland. Maidenhairs are also easy to integrate into garden spaces with lots of trees, thanks to their shade-fancying temperament. Consider planting them directly below trees to fill in any blank space around the roots.



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