Adiantum aethiopicum

Common Maidenhair Fern

Family: Pteridaceae

A common rhizomatous fern, with fronds forming spreading colonies, growing to about 50 cm tall (often less). The rhizomes are wiry and branched and very dark in colour.

It is a common plant in Australia, growing along the extent of the NSW coast, tablelands and north western slopes (as far west as Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran). It also grows on Norfolk Island. It extends into Victoria where it grows over most of the state except the north-west; extending into Queensland where it grows along the coast as far north as Cape York Peninsula and as far west as towards Tambo. In South Australia, it is found around the Adelaide area and to the south as well as Kangaroo Island and Port Lincoln-area. It occurs on the west coast of Western Australia, roughly from Perth to Albury. It also occurs over most of Tasmania as well as other mainland states except for Northern Territory. It also occurs in New Zealand and Africa.

It is often seen growing in moist areas near creeks in moist shady woodland or in open forest as well as rainforest, where it may form large colonies. It can also be seen in moist rocky areas at high altitudes. Can be found on a range of soil types from clays to sands.

Adiantum spp. can present with a variety of frond-appearances. This species grows in spreading clumps with fronds from 10 to 50 cm high. It can form continuous colonies 10s of metres long and wide in the right conditions (moist sheltered habitats). The fronds are horizontal and layered, or upright. They are considered compound-pinnate and divided twice (bi-pinnate), three-times (tri-pinnate) or four times (4-pinnate) 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. Rather, spores 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 is a genus of around 200 species – cosmopolitan in distribution. Australia reportedly has around 8 species, found in all states and territories. NSW currently has 7 species.

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 any part of Africa that was south of the then-known world, that is to say, more or less Africa south of Egypt (i.e., Ethiopia). This species is common there although may be a different taxon.

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Adiantum aethiopicum profile page https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Adiantum~aethiopicum

Wikipedia – Adiantum aethiopicum profile page          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adiantum_aethiopicum

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke