This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
Frond ovate-lanceolate, twice to thrice pinnate; pinnules very delicate, oblique, broadly wedge-shaped or sometimes rhomboid, rather long-stalked, the upper margin deeply incised and fruit-bearing or sterile and dentate; stipe slender, ebeneous; rachis almost capillary, flexuous. (Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States. See also Eaton's Ferns of North America.)
ONCE in a while some reader of our "Native Flowers and Ferns" writes that it would be "so nice" to know more about the cultivation of these pretty things. They forget for the moment that we are dealing with wild flowers, and that it is not possible to tell them, from experience, how to cultivate that which has not been cultivated. In the present case such friends may be gratified, for the True Maiden-hair is one of the best known of cultivated ferns. It is extensively grown by florists for ornamental work, and is a frequent denizen of fern cabinets. It also adapts itself better than many other ferns to room-culture; and, if but a few ferns are favorites in some small greenhouse, the True Maiden-hair is very likely to be one found among them. If these greenhouses have any slightly damp, or partially shaded places on their walls, it is more than likely that this plant will be found spontaneously there; not only taking good care of itself, but in many cases showing, by its luxuriance, how much it rejoices in its freedom. The fronds in these cases are often a foot in length, which is a good average growth, though Dr. Chapman, in the work we have quoted, gives one foot as the minimum, and speaks of three feet as the length they sometimes assume in the Southern States. This must be very unusual. The one given in our illustration is about the size as generally seen. Florists grow it in any ordinary potting soil, mixing with it about one-half of broken bricks, old pots, or stones. It does not endure the coldest winters in the Northern United States, but is nearly hardy, and of course will thrive in any cool greenhouse, as well as grow nicely in quite warm places. Indeed, for adaptation to many situations, it is one of the most remarkable ferns known; and this has been noted by those who have observed it in a wild state as well as by those who are familiar with it under culture. It is found in most parts of the world, and Sir William J. Hooker tells us that it is very abundant in the south of Europe, where he has seen it "lining the inside of wells with a tapestry of the tenderest green." On the other hand, Dr. C. C. Parry, in his " Botanical Observations in Southern Utah," in "American Naturalist" for 1875, says: "Apparently quite out of place in this arid climate, we notice quite frequently on the perpendicular face of moist sandstone rocks Adiantum Capillus-Veneris." In Florida it seems to prefer a situation different from either of those Dr. Parry and Sir William J. Hooker describe. In the " Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club," for September, 1877, Miss Mary C. Reynolds says: "I was made happy by finding, under the direction of Mr. Chamberlin, the beautiful Adiantum Capillus- Veneris growing in rich hummock-land, where wild oranges and other trees made a constant shade. Little mounds or depressions were the haunts of my charmer. Last year's fronds were all gone, or rather the pinnae had dropped, leaving the shining black, wiry stems standing upright and spreading out their slim fingers, while the baby fronds were coming up around them. Some were old enough to be well fruited, while others were very tender and of a lovely pink color."
It is remarkable that a plant capable of inciting such pleasant imagery, as is exemplified in the language of the writers quoted, should not have taken a distinguished place in classic poetry; but we can recall nothing in particular as we write. This is still more to be wondered at when we remember that it is a plant not only known over the whole world, but is referred to in some of the oldest writings extant; its present names indeed having been handed down to us from antiquity, and their meanings, so far as these may be applicable to our plant, in a measure lost. During the middle ages its proper name was Capillus Veneris; and because of this having once been its proper name is the reason why the capital letters are yet employed, though, under the binomial system of Linnaeus, it is now but an adjective to Adianhim. Capillus Veneris - literally, the hair of Venus, or perhaps of any fair lady - would seem to be from the mass of hair-like stipes, such as is referred to by Miss Reynolds above quoted; but as some erudite English authors - notably, Withering - observe, there are many others which may have equal claim to such a distinction. The Greeks of the present day, in whose country now as in ancient times the plant is common, give it the popular name of polytrichum, or "many hair;" while we, in our day, apply this name to a coarse hair-like moss. In like manner the generic name, Adiantum, is the one originally applied to it by Dioscorides, the ancient Greek physician and author, but for what reason is not known. Its literal meaning is "dry;" and Pliny, the Roman writer, conjectures that it may have been given to the fern, because when dipped in water the frond seems still dry when withdrawn. But here is the same objection as in the other case, that other ferns and other plants have the same appearance under such circumstances; and we have to rest satisfied with merely knowing that these are the ancient names as given to this plant.
Among the interesting matters connected with this species is the quantity of juice which the fronds contain. It is said that one pound of the fresh herb will give nearly one pound of juice, as if the whole plant were but water with a little filmy matter thrown in. This juice was the basis of a beverage once popular in France; but a querulous English writer of the last generation says that most of the medical or epicurean virtues it possessed was derived from the Narbonne honey, orange-flower water, and other nice things, which were put into it. Syrup of capillaire, however, the basis of the beverage in question, has lost its popularity now.
As already noted, the True Maiden-hair Fern - called "True" because among some half a hundred species of Adiantum now known, this is the species which gave the name of Maiden-hair to the whole genus - is found in all parts of the world, - in Europe, Asia, Africa and America. On our continent it extends south to the Amazon, and north to the Potomac river. It is not recorded from Colorado, but is found in the Indian Territory and in the southern part of California. Specimens for drawing were kindly sent by Dr. Wood, of Wilmington, North Carolina, but were not in fruit. Our plate is from a Texan specimen contributed by Mr. Jackson Dawson, of the Arnold Arboretum.
I. Full-sized plant from Texas.
2. Enlarged pinna, showing the veins and indusium.
3. Indusium lifted, showing the sporangia.