Monday, June 6, 2011

Maidenhair Fern

On Friday, Erika and I came upon this fine stand of Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum) along a cliff-side along the Cannon River Bike Trail in Goodhue County.  This fern grows in moist locations under deciduous forests.  The species is found in most of eastern North America.  Native Americans made a tea from the leaves to cure various respiratory conditions; the stems were used in basket weaving (try Googling "maidenhair fern basket").
Apparently the leaves easily shed water, hence the generic name "Adiatum," which derives from the Greek for non-wetting.  The specific name, "pendatum" refers to the shape of a bird's foot. I have wondered about the derivation of the common name.  According to Bill Bryson, many traditional names for plants (and animals) were decidedly vulgar yet unwittingly survive in modern English; "Maidenhair ... does not refer to the hair on the maiden's head." I suppose I should pull one of these ferns up and check its roots, which have fine, dark hairs. Until then, here is a website with a photograph.

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