Saturday, January 10, 2009

Adiantum - the Maidenhair Ferns

Sometimes when I log on to write in the morning I haven't a clue as to what I'm going to do, or where I'm going. This was such a morning. As I sit here, looking out on a winter scene with a bit of snow on the ground and rhododendrons whose leaves tell me it is below 32 degrees, it's hard to imagine green and delicate foliage, only the stalwarts of the garden, the conifer, hollies and some others still persevering. But as the days are starting to get longer (they really are) and the gardening season begins to sneak up on us, I guess it's time to imagine some of the delights that await. As someone who is more of a shade gardener with probably 6 of our 10 acre garden in shade or at least partial shade, we have an abundant assortment of ferns scattered throughout. I think for this week or so, we'll wander amongst the ferns and imagine that spring is here.

This first one is our native (eastern) Maidenhair fern, Adiantum pedatum. Pedatum would have to do with feet in Latin, so there seems to be some sort of disconnect in the name, except that I can see a resemblance to ladies tresses, probably more like braids of some sort. These grow in our woods across the road in great numbers on the shaded, northfacing hillside amongst the trilliums and gingers. It is one of my favorite places to walk in the spring when I can steal a little time from chores. I always go there on my birthday because I know, except on really cold springs, everything will be up and gorgeous, including the yellow flowered violets that grow along the creek. Maidenhair fern seems to be one of the more difficult to transplant to a different region. If you're looking for one, find a garden center that has locally grown ones if you can and you'll probably have happier ferns.
This next one is Adiantum pedatum var. aleuticum. It is from the far north, as the name suggests and so far seems to be happy here on a cold hillside, growing under a huge magnolia where it never gets any direct sun and very little light at all. I always marvel at plants that can thrive in such conditions, what with the need for photosynthesis and all. I guess either more light gets to them than I think or they have just evolved to survive in those conditions. The leaflets on this one are larger and coarser than the eastern maidenhair, though it still has the wiry stems. All of the maidenhairs ferns have a tall(ish) stem where the frond come off from the top, as opposed to the fronds just coming out of the ground. It is sort of hand shaped with the fronds being like the fingers. Though I should try and explain that since it really isn't clear in the pictures.
The last Maidenhair fern that we have in the garden is a southern maidenhair fern which is sometime listed as a zone 7 and which I grew inside in a pot for many years thinking it wasn't hardy here. We have had it growing in the shade of a crabapple to the north of the cactus bed for about 5 years now and it increases each year. The light is brighter there which may be something it is adaped to given its southern roots. It is a more delicate fern with tiny, sort of triangular leaflets on the same wiry stem. The stems on all maidenhairs ferns seem to be easily broken, so it you have dogs that run through the garden, these may not be the best choice for you, but I wouldn't be without them as they add a lightness and delicacy to the garden that most other ferns cannot approach. Almost forgot - the name of this one is Adiantum capillus veneris.

Alphabetically, I suppose tomorrow we are on to Arachnoides.


GardenJoy4Me said...

I am such a fan of ferns .. this was a great post ..
I have had ferns looked like they have died out on me .. yet come back a year or two, even three, later .. such as the Autumn Brilliance fern .. but I think my Maidenhair fern is a little more iffy .. it is so pretty .. I know I will end up getting another one and I will take your advice about them , thanks !

Northern Shade said...

I love these ferns, and grow Adiantum pedatum, the northern maidenhair fern. They seem to get a lot of directional names.
They have such a delicate look to them, and yet they are so hardy, and do well in zone 3. They keep their fronds a little longer in the fall, when other ferns start to brown from the frost. I especially like them next to woodland plants with broad leaves like Brunnera and Asarum.