Habit: this delicate palmately branched fern has shiny foliage that deflects water, staying dry on rainy days. Its common name, maidenhair, refers to its very fine, long, dark brown, hairy stalks. Each stalk forks at the top, dividing up in two, from which several blades emerge in a fan-like pattern. Leaflets (pinna) are made up of 15-32 pairs of oblong or fan-shaped segments (pinnules) cut into rectangular lobes on the upper part of their edge. Clusters of spores form along the rolled edges of the leaflets and are covered by flapping false indusium. Stalks are spread by stout, creeping rhizomes.
Ecology: Adiantum aleuticum occurs at low to mid elevations in shady, moist forests, streambanks, and wet rock cliffs. It can be found in most western states of North America all the way to Montana, Colorado, the Great Lakes as well as parts of the northeast.
Growth conditions: The beautiful foliage of Adiantum aleuticum adds interesting texture to a partially to fully shaded garden. The plant is very forgiving, but favors moist soils rich in organic matter. Maidenhair was used in Europe as cold medicine. Herbalists boiled it with sugar in order to produce a syrup named ‘capillaire’ which was taken by the sick to induce an emetic response.