Northern Maidenhair

Boanical Name :Adiantum pedatum
Family : Polypodiaceae
Genus : Adiantum

Habitat: N. America – Alaska to Quebec and Nova Scotia, south to California and Georgia. E. Asia   Rich, deciduous woodlands, often on humus-covered talus slopes and moist lime soils, from sea level to 700 metres . Woodland Garden; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Ground Cover;

It is a Perennial   Fern growing to 0.45m by 0.45m at a slow rate. The slender one to two-foot fronds are typically arranged in fives or sevens, hence the secondary common name “Five-fingered fern.” An established clump has so many overlapping palmate fronds that the feature of fives is not usually obvious.
The seeds ripen from August to October.


It is among the most beautiful of all ferns, “graceful” & “delicate” being the most recurring descriptors. The shiny black stems are lined on two sides with lacy leaves, in upright to fountaining sprays.


The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland). It requires moist soil.It grows in USDA zones 3 through 8, not found in hotter regions. It spreads by underground rhizomes that over a great length of time can become a continuous groundcover. It can be divided autumn or late winter to keep it a clumping fern with only a two foot width or less.

Easily grown in a cool moist shady position. Requires an abundance of moisture in the air and soil. Prefers an alkaline soil[200]. Requires an acid soil according to another report. A very ornamental plan, it does not always succeed outdoors in Britain[1]. It probably prefers to be covered in snow overwinter – could a mulch help? This species is often divided into three separate species by botanists – the type species is found in eastern N. America, A. aleuticum is found in western N. America and a third species is found in eastern Asia. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[233]. Plants have a slowly-increasing rootstock.

Spores – best sown as soon as ripe on the surface of a humus-rich sterilized soil. Keep the compost moist, preferably by putting a plastic bag over the pot. Pot on small clumps of plantlets as soon as they are large enough to handle and keep them humid until they are well established. Do not plant outside until the ferns are at least 2 years old and then only in a very well sheltered position. Division in spring or autumn.

Medicinal Actions &  Different  Uses
Antirheumatic; Astringent; Demulcent; Emmenagogue; Expectorant; Febrifuge; Haemostatic; Pectoral; Tonic.

The whole plant is considered to be antirheumatic, astringent, demulcent, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, haemostatic, pectoral and tonic. A tea or syrup is used in the treatment of nasal congestion, asthma, sore throats etc. A decoction of the root was massaged into rheumatic joints. The N. American Indians chewed the fronds and then applied them to wounds to stop bleeding. A strong infusion of the whole plant was has been used as an emetic in the treatment of ague and fevers. This plant was highly valued as a medicinal plant in the 19th century and merits scientific investigation.

The stipe of the plant is used as an ornament in basketry. The leaves can be used as a lining for carrying or storing fruits in baskets and on racks. The plant is used as a hair conditioner. The stems have been used as a hair wash to make the hair shiny. Plants can be used for ground cover when planted about 30cm apart either way, they form a slowly spreading clump.

Maidenhair fern is the source of a pleasantly aromatic volatile oil long used as a rinse or shampoo that rendered black hair very shiny, hence the name Maidenhair.

The same extracts have been peddled by herbalists to cure asthma, the flu, or as a general tonic which, for so long as you take it, will prevent you from catching whichever are the illnesses you happen not to get, but apparently useless for whichever ailments you do get.

Perhaps one out of fifty herbal remedies have authentic medicinal values, & it’s just too damned bad that herbalists are not a reliable source of information for pinpointing the minority of useful herbs amidst the great masses of frauds excused as “traditional.”

As it turns out, maidenhair is not one of the useful ones. Its tripernoids & other chemical components are interesting in their own right & have undergone hundreds of laboratory studies, but authentic medicinal value has proven to be illusive.

The tough, water-repellant, shiny black stems were used by Native American peoples in basketweaving. The genus name means “repels water,” for indeed raindrops weigh down the fronds & drop onto the ground leaving the fronds nearly dry. Francois Rabelais (1490-1553), speaking of the nearly identical European species (A. capillus-veneris), said it “never takes wet or moisture, but still keeps dry, though laid at the bottom of a river as long as you please.”

Known Hazards : Although  no reports of toxicity is found  for this species, a number of ferns contain carcinogens so some caution is advisable. Many ferns also contain thiaminase, an enzyme that robs the body of its vitamin B complex. In small quantities this enzyme will do no harm to people eating an adequate diet that is rich in vitamin B, though large quantities can cause severe health problems. The enzyme is destroyed by heat or thorough drying, so cooking the plant will remove the thiaminase.

The information presented herein by us is intended for educational purposes only.Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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One thought on “Northern Maidenhair

  1. Orest

    Thanks for linking to my blog post, “Alas! Poor Fern.”

    Hopefully readers of your article will have better success with their plants than I had with Fern.

    Incidentally, Spike, my cactus, continues to do well, and I now also have a dieffenbachia named Roberta.


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