Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Differences Between Bracken Ferns and Maidenhairs

Print this articleFerns are among the most ancient of botanical species and among the simplest of plants. Not having flowers or seeds, ferns reproduce through the dispersion of spores by wind. Pteridium aquilinum, known as the bracken fern, and various species of adiantum, or maidenhair ferns, are both in this large related group of plants, yet they have noteworthy differences.

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Maidenhair ferns have lacy, delicate fan-shaped leaves growing from a shiny black or reddish-black stalk that generally grows up to 2 feet tall. The stalk divides at the top into two branches curving in opposite directions. Bracken fern leaves are larger than those of maidenhair ferns, and they consist of three triangular parts. Although coarse and leather-like, these leaves still have a lacy look. Bracken ferns can grow up to 6 feet tall. Both bracken and maidenhair ferns spread out and develop into large colonies.

Growing Areas

Like most ferns, maidenhair ferns grow best in moist or wet soil, in shade and in rocky areas. They are abundant along stream banks, in deep woods and in ravines. Bracken ferns are unusual because they grow well in dry areas. Look for bracken ferns not only in moist forests but in sandy soil, pastures with poor soil and in open sunny woodlands. Bracken ferns also spring back easily in areas that have burned.


For gardening or wooded areas of your yard, maidenhair ferns are good for ground cover and for adding low-maintenance natural features, as noted by "Fine Gardening" magazine. Bracken has these uses as well, but you may want to forego planting this fern if deer graze on your land. The fern can be poisonous when eaten in large amounts by ruminant animals such as deer and cows.


To care for bracken fern, grow it in any part of your yard that has some shade or full sun. Although bracken grows in dry soil, you'll see best results by keeping the soil moist. Maidenhair fern needs more shade and can even grow well in full shade. It does best in moist soil that drains well -- in other words, soil that doesn't have a high clay content.

ReferencesForest Preserve District of Cook County: Bracken, Maidenhair and Walking FernsMcDaniel College: FernsFine Gardening: Adiantum PedatumFine Gardening: Pteridium AquilinumRead Next:

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