Adiantum aethiopicum

Common Maidenhair Fern

Family: Pteridaceae

A common plant in Australia, growing along the extent of the NSW coast, tablelands and western slopes, as well as other mainland states except for Northern Territory. It also occurs in Africa, Norfolk Island and New Zealand.

It is often seen growing in moist areas near creeks or in open forest, where it may form a large colony, and has a creeping rhizome and is much branched. Can be found on a range of soil types from clays to sands.

Grows in spreading clumps with fronds from 10 to 45 cm high. It can form continuous colonies 10s of metres long and wide in the right conditions (moist sheltered habitats).

The rhizomes are wiry and branched.

The fronds are horizontal and layered, or upright. They are considered compound-pinnate and divided in twice or three time with foliage forming wedge-shaped segments, to 8 mm long and wide, mid-green to dark green.

Being a fern, no flowers or fruits are produced.

Spores are produced in kidney-shaped sori, located underneath segments and shaped to follow the margins.

In the garden

This plant is very common in cultivation and has been so for a long time.

It prefers a shady place, not in afternoon sun. It is fairly easy to grow in a wide range of soils. The author has found that this plant is selective where it grows in his garden despite attempts to establish in a favoured spot. It can also be a bit weedy if growing in the wrong place (spread by spores).

Sometimes, it can be temperamental and will not establish from planting, but when it does, it tends to grow well.

Popular as an indoor plant in pots where it does well, provided the light conditions are good.

It dies down over winter and needs to be cut back hard to encourage new and attractive green spring growth.

Scale can be a problem as well as Maidenhair aphids.


Propagation is from plant division or by spores.

Other information

Can grow in fire-prone environments. Can regenerate from rhizomes but probably does not like too hot or frequent fires.

Adiantum – from the Greek adianton (ἀδίαντον) meaning “not wetting” or “un-wet-table, referring to the fronds’ ability to shed water without becoming wet, likely due to the waxy surface of the segments.
aethiopicum – was the Latin term for Africa south of the then known world, that is to say, more or less Africa south of Egypt.

Not considered at risk in the wild.


By Jeff Howes