Adiantum silvaticum

Rough Maidenhair, Forest Maidenhair Fern

Family: Pteridaceae

This ferm is a comparatively taller clumping maidenhair fern, with fronds to 80 cm tall.

It grows mainly in the coastal areas of NSW, west into the tablelands-fringes, north from around Gerringong in the Illawarra Region, west into the Blue Mountains and also in Mt Kaputar National Park near Narrabri. It extends north into Queensland, growing along the coast in disjunct patches to north of Cairns. It also grows in New Zealand as well as some of the Pacific Islands.

It is generally found growing in rainforest or open moist/wet eucalyptus forests, often along streams and moist cliff faces, on enriched soils.

Rhizomes are long and creeping, usually on the soil surface.

Adiantum spp. can present with a variety of frond-appearances. In this species, erect fronds grow to 80 cm high, with fronds considered compound-pinnate, and are bipinnate (Jacaranda-type) or tripinnate (divided again). Hence, the foliage consists of branched portions of frond within a larger frond, made up of segments (pinnules or leaflets). The segments (pinnules/leaflets) are to 20 mm long, pale to dark green long and to 5-7 mm wide, roughly rectangular, asymmetrical or egg-shaped. The main frond stem can also have a zig-zag formation.

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 5 sori per segment.

In the garden

This fern is known to be cultivated. It is not often grown but would make a great addition to any shady place in the garden.

It is not fast-growing, but will eventually make a clump if given the right conditions. It needs good light to fairly deep shade, and it should be kept moist for optimum growth although it is quite hardy.

An interesting feature of this plant is the colour of the new growth. The tiny pinnules on new fronds are almost black, becoming deep purple as the pinnules develop a little, then a breath-taking pink as the frond reaches its full spread.

Scale can be a problem and Maidenhair aphids.

Is listed for sale on Ebay at time of writing (see references), so likely has some cultivation potential.

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


Propagation is from plant division or by spores.

Other information

Lives in habitats not prone to fire. Response to fire unknown.

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.

silvaticum – Latin pertaining to trees or forests (silviculture), basically referring to the habitat of the species.

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

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

Australian Native Plants Society Australia (ANPSA) – Fern Study Group Newsletter Number 135 dated February 2016 https://anpsa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/fern135.pdf

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke