Simply The Best Natives-Maidenhair Fern


Only spread a fern-frond over a man’s head and worldly cares are cast out, and freedom and beauty and peace come in.  ~John Muir



One of the most beautiful and unusual ferns is also one I have been trying to grow for a few years now.  And I finally have had a bit of success.  I am talking about Adiantum pedatum more commonly called Northern maidenhair fern part of the Maidenhair Fern Family or (Pteridaceae).  Because of its finger-like fronds, it is also called the five-fingered fern.  I think the fronds look like a web or fan in a circular shape.  

DSCN3932This deciduous, clump-forming, fern typically grows about a foot in my garden even now as the autumn cold winds howl.  But they can get up to two feet tall in the wild.  The thin black stems don’t look strong enough to support the fronds. But this fern is not as delicate as it looks and can withstand many tough environments.  

Look for pink to burgundy colored young fiddleheads to appear in early spring.  And the roots are as wiry as the stems forming colonies if they are grown in favorable conditions.  I can only hope to grow a colony of this amazing fern. 

I am linking in with Gail@Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday meme as I profile this wonderful native plant, and with Christina@Creating my own garden of the Hesperides for her Garden Bloggers Foliage Day on the 22nd. 


And I am also joining forces with a local native plant nursery, Amanda’s Garden, to purchase native plants for my garden, similar to the one I am profiling in this post.  The owner, Ellen Folts, specializes in woodland, prairie and wetland native perennials.




Growing Conditions

It is said this fern is quite easy to grow.  Of course it needs just the right conditions.  It adores from heavy shade to part shade, but shade is essential or the fronds will turn brown.  And it likes soil that is well-drained but damp to moist, and not wet. DSCN7578 The soil should be rich like that growing under trees with years of leafy loam.  It does not like clay soil as I have found out the hard way.  And it will grow in mostly acidic soil and tolerate neutral pH too.

In dry soil the fern will go dormant and it may not reappear if the soil is dry for too long as in a drought.  It also prefers a sheltered area away from too much wind.

This fern is said to be resistant to browsing deer, and has no serious insect or disease problems, thankfully.

Northern maidenhair ferns reproduce by spores that mature in late summer and fall.  You can put the spores into sterile potting mix, mist and cover with a clear plastic lid to propagate.  But it is easier to divide the roots during the spring when the fiddleheads are just emerging (pictured here) or in late fall as the fern is becoming dormant.




Benefits to Wildlife

DSCN8221Northern maidenhair ferns that form a colony are great cover for small mammals, birds, lizards and toads.

Also songbirds will use the dried up fern fronds to line their nests.




Where Are They Found

Northern maidenhair fern grows in zones 4-8 in most of Eastern North America.  

It is found in its native habitat in moist (but not wet), cool woodlands particularly in northern exposures.  I have mine growing on the north side of my house in the richly amended protected shade garden.

Northern maidenhair fern can also be found along springs and streams.





Northern maidenhair ferns are perfect for a native shade garden, shaded rock garden or woodland garden and along shaded IMG_8653paths.  

You can combine it with non-natives like hostas and brunneras or with native flowers such as violets, trilliums, cardinal flower, hepatica, bloodroot, and native azaleas and rhododendrons.  Also combine them with larger natives like yellow lady slipper orchid, wild geranium, and Virginia bluebells.

Be careful when you spot them in the wild as they have a very dangerous partner growing with them, poison ivy.

The shiny, dark stems of this fern are also used in basketry. 




Folklore and Tales

Northern maidenhair ferns were used by Native American Tribes to treat fevers, rheumatism, coughing, asthma, gynecological issues and to purify the blood.  As always, consult an expert before using plants as a remedy.

DSCN7871It was also used as a rinse for shiny hair.  Perhaps that is how it got its common name.

In Smoky Mountain folklore, they say if a maiden handles the stem and the leaves don’t flicker, her virtue is assured.

In the Language of Flowers Maidenhair ferns stand for Discretion and Secrecy.




The forest makes your heart gentle.  You become one with it… No place for greed or anger there. Pha Pachak



Do you have ferns growing in your garden?  What is your favorite fern to grow?



Simply The Best 2014:


September- St. John’s Wort

August-Golden Alexanders

July-Wild Geranium

June-Ostrich Fern



March-Northern Sea Oats

February-Common Boneset

January-Pearly Everlasting



Next up on the blog:  

Monday, I will have another Garden Book review with another vase from my autumn garden.  And Wednesday brings a spooky garden post.

I am linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Tuesday.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2014.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.



77 Replies to “Simply The Best Natives-Maidenhair Fern”

  1. Yes, we have Maidenhair Fern growing in our small woodland area, it is spreading nicely and will soon need attention as it will spread right across the path if I let it! We have clay soil, but I mulch each year with our own leafmould so the fern is very happy.

    1. Oh Pauline I bet the display of Maidenhair is stunning…I hope to have a couple of areas of it once it spreads a bit more.

  2. This is one of my favorite ferns! I have a few growing in my garden but as you mentioned they don’t care for clay soil, which I have a lot of, so there are only a few location it would be happy in my garden. I love reading your plant profiles, especially the history and folklore behind the plants!

    1. Thanks Karin….I know what you mean about the clay soil. But I hope to find a few more spots for this fern once I redo a few beds.

  3. There is a sort of fern in the very back of the house that was here when I moved here. I don’t know what kind it is…only that I have to pull most of it each spring or it will take over : )

    This was interesting though…I thought I’d heard of fiddleheads being something that people could eat but not sure where or how long ago.

    My grandmother and mom always had ferns in their shady spots outside; they’d transplant them from the woods.

    1. Deb, the term fiddlehead is used for emerging ferns, but the ones most folks eat are the ostrich fern fiddleheads. Once I have enough of the ostrich ferns established I want to try them. Ferns can get to be aggressive if given the right conditions.

  4. Thanks for joining in GBFD again this month Donna. Sadly your fern won’t grow in my garden, I must try to find some that will tolerate drought as I do love all the different foliage types. This is native to the UK as far as I’m aware too, I suppose it was around even before the continents separated.

    1. Christina, there is a maidenhair that is native to the UK just a bit different in looks. They are all over the world. It would be wonderful to find some drought tolerant ferns in your garden.

  5. Definitely my favorite fern to grow! I enjoy mine tremendously and it has become quite large. I tried planting this fern in two clients’ gardens. In wind, and too much sun, I miscalculated, but it seems to be adapting. We’ll see next year … I love it’s fall tan color, too, in the garden.

    1. How wonderful it is adaptive as a fern Kathy. I think if it has enough moisture, it will grow in sun, wind and even some clay.

  6. Beautiful photos–glad you’re having success growing this beautiful fern. Fern evokes such lushness and “ancient-ness” to me. I don’t have any in my garden, but there are ferns native to Central Texas and they are lovely too.

    1. I agree Tina that fern harken us back to ancient times. I hope to grow more native ferns in my garden as they are perfect for my climate. And how wonderful to have a native fern there too.

  7. One of my favourites! So delicate looking, and yet so tough and adaptable. Mixes well with other plants and has such a lovely form. Can be a little difficult to find in the ‘regular’ nurseries or garden centres, but certainly well worth a bit of a hunt if you’ve got a shady spot. B.
    p.s. I’m also on the hunt for a maiden to see if the leave wobble-not is true!

    1. I agree Barbara that it is hard to find in nurseries. I usually order mine online and plan to order a few more when I redesign a few areas as I agree it is stunning mixed with other plants.

      Oh and I love the idea of finding a maiden to test out the folklore! 🙂

  8. I never used to like ferns much but they have grown on me. I don’t think I could grow yours, although it looks lovely. I have ostrich ferns and they are fairly invasive even in dry ground in the full sun!

    1. Yes those ostrich ferns are very aggressive here too. But if you have some good soil that doesn’t dry out and a bit of part shade, you could definitely grow these Cathy…maybe amongst your beautiful flowers in the Tuesday view spot.

  9. I’ve never been able to grow maidenhair fern but wish I could!! I don’t know the type of fern that I grow, but I received it as a cutting from my son’s garden. He doesn’t know the type either, but now I have it growing all around my garden. I really should find out what to call it! It’s happy in clay, doesn’t mind some drought, and takes some sun.

    1. Love to know what fern that is Dorothy as it seems perfect…and of course it is because it was a pass-a-long from your son!

  10. Lovely! I have yet to start planting my shade garden here at my new house, but ferns grow quite well throughout the woods. I have mostly Cinnamon ferns, but I’ve seen one here and there that looks much like a Maidenhair. I will have to take a closer look next year when they come back out!

    1. Oh to have maidenhairs growing in your woods is a wonderful thing Indie. I also have cinnamon ferns and love them. I plan to profile them next year.

      And I can’t wait to hear about your new shade garden.

  11. If Pauline can grow it successfully then it’s worth me giving it a go too. It’s a beauty.. albeit a rather fussy one by the sound of it!

  12. another delightful natives post Donna, I’m glad you have found a place your fern likes, it must be quite difficult with the extreme changes of temperatures you have for some plants, maidenhair is a beautiful fern no wonder you persevered, Frances

  13. A most informative and enjoyable post Donna. A most airy and graceful fern. I have a weakness for Japanese painted ferns.

    1. I love the Japanese painted ferns too Anna and have them in some spots where I need to rescue them…they need a far more prominent spot to shine. Some are covered by bushes, weeds or dry ground poor things.

  14. Thank you, Donna, for this very interesting post! I hadn’t heard of Adiantum pedatum before, but now I learnt it can be found in gardens also where I live (Finland). It has two vernacular names here; translated into English, one of them would be “Canadian maidenhair fern”. It certainly would be an interesting feature of any woodland garden. I haven’t planted any ferns yet, but we are lucky to have for example plenty of Matteuccias growing spontaneously in the woodland near our home.

    1. Oh Sara maidenhair fern would be stunning in your garden, and how wonderful you can grow it there. I also have Matteuccias here…they are lovely!!

  15. I absolutely love this fern but I haven’t found a place in my garden where it will grow. I have babied them. Neglected it and tried to do just right by it but it refuses to grow for me. I am so jealous that you can grow it. I can grow Autumn Fern and a native here Sensitive Fern. I have to enjoy Maidenhair fern vicariously.

    1. Oh I am sorry to hear that Lisa…Autumn fern would not grow for me so I am jealous of you as it is a wonderfully colored fern.

  16. I love this fern but don’t have the right conditions for it, unfortunately. But I do wish I could find a spot for it. I wonder if it would do well in a pot since I could put that in the shade. What do you think?

  17. You’re right, this is a wonderful fern. Glad you’re getting it established in your garden. Good luck with it. Wish I had more shade.

    1. It will tolerate more sun if it is kept moist especially in spring and fall/winter….I am glad it has decided to grow one lone plant for me Susie. I hope it enjoys the winter wet though. I think it will….

  18. Northern maidenhair ferns seems very elegant, Donna. I liked that it grows in shady place because I have some place where nothing grows.

  19. We have a lot of this fern growing under the trees that border our fields. The wild plants did well as always this year, but all the ferns I planted in my shade garden were very poor. I think it was too dry. Must check the soaker hose installed there and make sure it doesn’t happen next year. P. x

    1. That is my problem under trees is the dry conditions so ferns don’t like it there…but I have found a couple of spots and possibly a spot in my meadow under the maple where it is wet for more ferns.

    1. I actually have my bloodroot in the same bed as this fern Sue….so maybe you might have the right conditions. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  20. I was thinking I could try this until you got to the soil requirements. It won’t like it here, but it is a beautiful fern and I do love them….Michelle

  21. No ferns in the garden (oh … no gardens ;>() But we see them in the wild areas next to our RV Park here in Oregon and as well near the one where we live in Florida. Which really surprised me the first time we went there. I never thought Florida would have ferns, but it has beautiful ones.

    1. Oh FL does have stunning tropical ferns Sallie…you actually are the most blessed as you get to see the ferns in their native habitats.

  22. Hm…acidic/neutral, moist, well-drained, non-clay shady soil?

    Yep, I’ve got NONE of that! 😉

    (Fortunately I’ve found a few ferns that seem to do well in my clay, dry-to-wet, partial-shade-at-best conditions – Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern), Dryopteris x australis (Dixie Wood Fern — this one’s native to the Southeast USA!) and Athyrium nipponicum (Japanese Painted Fern).

    I’ve got another native fern (Polystichum acrostichoides, Christmas Fern) that’s hanging on, but struggling here. I think it would prefer any cool, moist, acidic, non-clay conditions you could give it.

    1. Fabulous ferns for your garden Aaron…your soil supporting autumn fern is why mine won’t support…almost opposite soils. I moved my Christmas Ferns and think I killed them. They love conditions here, and even tolerate some drier conditions if given enough shade. Good luck with them!!

  23. A beautiful and delicate plant.They used to be popular as indoor plants but I don’t see them for sale much these days.

    1. Sounds wonderful Diana to add this fern. I am regrouping with my gardens and revamping many. I am looking forward to seeing your new gardens as they are created.

  24. Thanks for a very interesting post! I bet you are right about where it got its name – fascinating connection! I do have this fern in my garden – or at least I did. Not sure how it fared in the awfully dry summer we had. It is one of the loveliest ferns I know, and I love all of them! Another favorite is the Tassel fern, and it seems tough as nails!

    1. I am hoping your maidenhair is just dormant Anna. It would be a shame to lose it…glad you enjoyed the post especially where it may have gotten its name.

  25. A lovely fern and one I don’t have in my garden. My shade garden is near a large evergreen with long roots, so it’s often too dry during the season for some moisture-loving plants, though. I always enjoy your information about each plant, Donna, especially the folklore!

    1. I know what you mean about a shade garden drying out under trees Rose. I have lost more ferns under mine, but I was lucky to have a bit of a shade garden on the north side of the house which is where this lovely fern resides now.

  26. This is a very beautiful fern, and I’d like to give it a try. The only thing that holds me back is that my soil is generally quite alkaline.

    1. My soil is the same Jason but I find as long as it is amended (as mine is heavy clay) and moist then it will do fine with alkaline soil and and some sun or shade (more shade than sun).

  27. My neighbor gave me a clump and it has been doing well for me. I’ve got it in a number of spots including some that are rather dry. Increasing more slowly but otherwise seems ok. Enjoyed the foliage book review and am going to look for it.

    1. Linda that is wonderful to hear. I have had it in a bit of drier conditions as long as it was shady. But it did not come back as it was too dry there I fear.

      And how wonderful you enjoyed the book review too. Thank you for your visits!!

  28. I dont know how I missed this Donna! I love our native maidenhair fern, but sadly I have slightly alkaline soil so it wouldn’t thrive for me. One of my winter projects is to research good ferns for neutral to alkaline soil.

    1. Janet I also have alkaline soil, which is why I had so much trouble growing this and other ferns. But since putting them in moister shadier conditions this one grew as have other ferns. I hope more will grow here too. One of the best non-native ferns to grow for me has been the Japanese fern. As long as it has some shade and moisture, it thrives.

  29. My vote for favourite fern will always go to Ostrich ferns, but I love to learn about other types as well since they all have their place, don’t they?

    1. I agree Derek and by far the Ostrich fern has been the easiest to grow for me. That gets them into my top 3 native ferns.

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