Adiantum hispidulum

Rough Maidenhair Fern, Five-fingered Jack, Five-finger Maidenhair

Family: Pteridaceae

A perennial fern, with fronds rising erectly from short rhizomes, to 70 cm tall.

It has a massive natural occurrence: It is widespread in NSW – found along the entire coastal stretch, extending through the tablelands and western slopes, to as far west as Warrumbungle National Park (west of Coonabarabran). It extends into Queensland, growing up the coast to Cape York Peninsula and west into Carnarvon National Park. It is found in the eastern area of Victoria, west to around Traralgon. It is also found scattered through the Northern Territory. It is also found in New Zealand and all the Pacific Islands and into Asia.

It is found naturally in both rainforest and wet to dry-moist sclerophyll forest and woodland, as well as  open more exposed areas.

Grows into a small, upright clumps amongst rocks and, its fronds arising from the short dark clumped rhizomes to about 70 cm high.

The stipes (stalk of a frond of a fern) are dark in colour and slightly rough to touch.

Adiantum spp. can present with a variety of frond-appearances. In this species, the fronds are considered compound-pinnate and is this species, are divided palmately or into 2 where each offshoot may split again. Hence, the foliage consists of paired or palmately arranged pinnae (frond sections made up of segments). The segments (pinnules/leaflets) are to 13 mm long, pale to dark green long and to 7 mm wide, roughly rectangular, diamond or fan-shaped. Young growth may have a pinkish tinge before it matures into the dark green foliage.

Being a fern, no flowers or fruits are produced. Rather, spores are produced.

Spores are produced in sporangia, which are housed in a sorus (plural sori – spore houses). The sori are produced on the underside of frond segments and follow the segment edges. There can be 20 sori per segment.

In the garden

This a hardy fern which performs best in soils containing appreciable organic matter with plenty of moisture. It is more tolerant of sun and drying out than other fern species. It is not overly common in cultivation but it is available from many nurseries. It is best grown in a shady location.

Suitable for growing in pots, but needs high humidity (suitable places such as bathrooms). However, do not over-water.

Susceptible to leaf burn in low humidity or when soil dries out.

It is promoted in the US as a cultivated plant (see resources).


Propagation is from plant division or by spores

Other information

Can likely regenerate from rhizomes after fire.

There are two varieties currently recognised in NSW:

  • var. hispidulum with fronds appearing helicoid (a condition where they repeatedly branch on one side) and with shorter rigid hairs on undersides of fronds;
  • var. hypoglaucum with the undersides of fronds sub-glaucous and with longer flexible hairs; and with fronds helicoid or pedate (where there may be some additional division of segments in a palmately-compound leaf).

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.

hispidulum – is a Latin word meaning “bristly”, “rough”, “hairy” or prickly” finely bristly (hispid), covered with coarse hairs, referring to the hairy stems. The suffix “ulum” a diminutive, indicating that the hairs are small.

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild in most of its habitats. The variety taxon var. hispidulum is critically endangered in Victoria.

Wikipedia – Adiantum hispidulum profile page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adiantum_hispidulum

Hardy Fern Foundation – Adiantum hispidulum profile page

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