Maidenhair fern at Boboli gardens, Florence 2014

The maidenhair fern is a common name generally attributed to species within the Adiantum genus, although it is perhaps most closely associated with Adiantum capillus-veneris. It has a wide ranging area of distribution across the world's warm-temperate and subtropical zones, more specifically from California through to Mexico, Central America and South America. It is also native to Eurasia, Western Asia, and Australasia, as well as having naturalised in many other countries including southern United Kingdom.

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It can be found in the wild growing in damp, but not waterlogged soils in areas of high humidity. This would include a variety of forests and woodlands, north facing cliffs, and positions near watercourses.

The 'maidenhair' description has nothing to do with the foliage, but instead relates to its fine, delicate root hairs. In fact the species name 'capillus-veneris' is from the Latin meaning hair and venus (as in the goddess Venus) translating to 'Venus's hair'. Be that as it may, the common term of maidenhair is still the more expected term.

It is widely cultivated for traditional shade gardens and container gardens. In cooler, northern European climates it is more commonly grown as an indoor houseplant although it can be kept and overwintered outside in the more milder areas such as the south and west of England and Ireland.

The maidenhair fern is a small to medium sized species ;distinctive fan-shaped or wedge-shaped leaf segments on black stalks. Once established you can expect it to grow to approximately 15 to 30 cm in height. It has a pendulous, light-green, slightly glaucous fronds which arise arise in clusters from creeping rhizomes. It expresses an evergreen habuit in its native ranges but the further north it extends it displays more semi-evergreen to deciduous characteristics.

Plant the maidenhair fern in a semi-shaded position in a moist soil that has been previously enriched with leaf-mould or peat. To encourage growth work in some bonemeal according to manufacturer's instructions. Apply a further top dressing of bonemeal in the spring.

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