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.