Instead of struggling with that weedy corner or that sad patch of sod, invite Adiantum pedatum into your garden. This lovely maidenhair fern has the delicate, frothy look of a prima donna houseplant, but it’s actually a tough and adaptable native gem, capable of transforming a problem spot into a knee-high forest of elegant green blades. Lacy fronds are narrow and oblong (as compared to the classic triangular fern shape) and set on dark, arching, wiry stalks.
Common name: Northern maidenhair fern, American maidenhair fern
Botanical name: Adiantum pedatum
Plant type: Deciduous fern
Zones: 3 to 8
Height: 12 to 30 inches
· Sun: Part or full shade
· Soil: Rich, humusy, acidic
· Moisture: Average to moist
· Mulch: Mulch to help keep soil moist.
· Pruning: None needed.
· Fertilizer: None needed.
· By spores and by division of rhizomes.
Pests and diseases
· None serious
· In the wild, Northern maidenhair fern grows in wooded ravines and at the edge of streams.
· Combine Adiantum pedatum with other shade-lovers, such as lungwort and foamflower. Use it as a transition between flower beds and shrubs, a foundation planting, or even as a low hedge.
· Though maidenhair fern prefers moist spots, it will tolerate semi-dry shade.
· If it gets too little water or too much sun, A. pedatum can turn brown. It’s said to be good at resurrecting itself, though—give it 18 months to show new growth before you consider it a lost cause.
· ‘Miss Sharples’, with yellow-green or chartreuse fronds, is available but may be difficult to find.
All in the family
· The genus Adiantum contains more than 200 species of ferns found in tropical and temperate regions around the world.
· Other fern families include Dryopteridaceae, Osmundaceae, Polypodiaceae, and Aspleniaceae.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Adiantum pedatum courtesy of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden.)