Maidenhair ferns are true moisture-loving ferns. They are found along waterways such as streams, rivers and waterfalls. There are temperate varieties, as well as semitropical and tropical maidenhair ferns. There is much confusion over species names and there are new species that are still being identified. Maidenhair ferns could easily be labeled elite ferns because of their delicate beauty and habitat requirements.
Temperate Maidenhair Ferns
Three types of maidenhair ferns are found in North America. The Eastern and Western maidenhair fern may be listed as either Adiantum pedatum, or Adiantum aleuticum. The common name is five-finger fern because of the five leaflets held high on a long black stems. The stems stand out in the shade and are an attractive feature. The small delicate leaves look slightly ruffled. Few ferns match this one for beauty. If you come across a mass of five-finger ferns along a river bank, it is a sight to see. The plant is 1 to 2 feet in height with an overall rounded appearance. The Southern maidenhair (Adiantum capillus-veneris), or venus maidenhair fern, is also a beautiful fern. It is similar in size but the individual leaf-lets are arranged in mattes. The California maidenhair fern (Adiantum jordanii), looks similar to the Southern maidenhair, and is native to California and parts of Oregon. The Himalayan maidenhair fern (Adiantum venustum) can also be grown in mild regions of North America, USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5. This fern has the same black wiry stems but grows closer to the ground. The small leaflets are not arranged in rows but in an irregular pattern.
Tropical Maidenhair Ferns
The tropical maidenhair ferns are grown indoors as houseplants. They require warm temperatures and high humidity. The best way to provide this is to mist them frequently with a spray bottle. They are shade plants, so they are a potential plant for the bathroom because of the extra moisture available. There are numerous species of maidenhair fern growing in tropical regions of Asia, Africa, South America and even New Zealand.
Maidenhair fern are difficult to grow unless they have the right environment. Give them consistent moisture or they will dry out and turn brown. Choose a spot that is shady all day and where you water frequently. Some maidenhair ferns can tolerate morning sun. Plant them next to a water source such as a fountain or pond. This is especially important while they are becoming established. They are deciduous, and will die back each winter and return in the spring.
Like other ferns, maidenhair ferns proliferate by producing and dispersing spores. This is a slower means of propagation, but it is possible. In order for the spores to germinate, they must be ripe. Catch them by placing white cloth, or paper under the plant when the spores start to pop open. They will also spread on their own by spores in optimum situations. Should they germinate in the garden, allow them to grow where they are. Once they reach 6 inches tall, and have developed a root system, they can be transplanted in the fall. It is also advantageous to grow small ferns in containers until they are at least 1 year old. Never allow the ferns to dry out. Maidenhair ferns are clump-forming plants that will spread by underground rhizomes. Once they have formed a clump, they can be divided and transplanted. Division of healthy clumps is the easiest way to obtain more plants. Dig and divide maidenhair fern in the fall, just after the fronds turn brown.
The five-finger ferns are very cold hardy. Problems are usually because of dry hot weather not cold. Unless they are given shade and a continuous supply of moisture they will not survive in hot regions. By growing them in containers, you can control their environment in less than perfect climates. Maidenhair ferns like humus rich soils. Regular compost will retain needed moisture and supply nutrients.