Maidenhair Fern: A Protected NY Native

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Maidenhair ferns by Marnie Sciamanda

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — The Maidenhair fern is not as common as some other ferns, but it can still be found in damp, shady woods, especially down by ravines.

“Sometimes you’ll see it in combination with sugar maples,” said Daniel Waldhorn, with New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

It appears delicate with a thin, dark stem and frilly leaflets. The stem and leaflets together form the fern’s frond. The Maidenhair’s fronds splay out in a sort of circular formation, which is different from most ferns.

Ferns were some of the first plants to evolve vascular systems, allowing them to distribute water among its tissues and grow taller.

“It’s one of the first groups of plants that was able to grow more than a couple of inches tall,” Waldhorn explained. “During the Carboniferous period, ferns were the dominant plant in the landscape, and they could grow tens to even a hundred feet tall.

The Carboniferous period ended about 300 million years ago. Flowering plants proved themselves to be generally more adaptable and pushed ferns out as the most dominant plant.

Jane Raffaldi/DEC

The Maidenhair Fern grows to be one-to-two feet tall and wide.

During the mid-to-late fall, the Maidenhair Fern is likely turning brown and dying back, but, in the spring, it unrolls new fronds. Looking like the top of the violin, it’s known as a fiddlehead. The Maidenhair’s fiddlehead is pink.

They can be planted in the shade of homes, but they’re protected. So, on your hike you can look, but don’t touch.