Mother Fern vs Maidenhair Fern: Key Differences Explained

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Ferns are popular choices for indoor plants, offering a touch of nature’s elegance to any living space. Two well-loved species are the mother fern, also known as Asplenium bulbiferum or mother spleenwort, and the maidenhair fern, scientifically known as Adiantum. These ferns not only add a beautiful aesthetic to your home but are also relatively easy to care for, making them ideal choices for houseplant enthusiasts.

The mother fern is known for its curious habit of producing baby plants along its fronds, giving it the nickname “hen and chickens.” While not as refined in appearance as some ferns, it’s a fascinating species with foliage resembling carrot tops. On the other hand, the maidenhair fern is a favorite for its delicate, lacy fronds and ability to thrive in shaded areas with moist soil. It is often used in arrangements or as a standalone pot plant.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences and similarities between the mother fern and maidenhair fern, as well as provide helpful tips to ensure both species maintain optimal health and beauty while growing in your home. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of how to choose and care for these delightful houseplants.

Mother Fern Vs Maidenhair Fern: Basic Characteristics

Mother Fern Overview

Mother fern leaves close up
close up of hen and chicken fern leaf

Mother Fern, scientifically known as Asplenium bulbiferum, is an attractive fern with graceful, finely cut fronds that can sometimes reach up to four feet in length. This fern is unique because it produces plantlets along its fronds, which can be removed and planted, giving it the common name “Mother Fern” or “Hen and Chickens Fern” [source]. These plantlets make the Mother Fern a standout in the fern world and a popular choice for indoor and outdoor gardening.

Some key characteristics of the Mother Fern are:

  • Finely cut fronds
  • Produces plantlets along its fronds
  • Can grow up to four feet in length

Maidenhair Fern Overview

Maidenhair leaves close up
Close up of adiantum philippense or maidenhair fern growing in flower garden

Maidenhair Fern is a large group of perennial, evergreen ferns known for their light green, delicate compound leaves made up of small leaflets [source]. The shiny black leaf stalks (petioles) of these ferns stand out against the green foliage, giving them a unique and elegant appearance. Maidenhair ferns can grow up to about three feet and thrive in warm, humid conditions [source]. They can be found in shaded, moist areas where they provide a lovely ground cover or accent to shaded gardens.

Some notable features of Maidenhair Fern include:

  • Light green compound leaves with small leaflets
  • Shiny black leaf stalks (petioles)
  • Can grow up to about three feet

In conclusion, while both Mother Fern and Maidenhair Fern are beautiful and captivating plants, their differing characteristics make them suitable for various gardening situations. It is essential to consider these differences when deciding which fern to include in your garden or indoor plant collection.

Growing Conditions

Ideal Growing Conditions for Mother Fern

Mother Ferns (Asplenium bulbiferum), also known as Hen and Chickens fern, require specific conditions to thrive. These ferns prefer:

  • Indirect sunlight: Provide filtered light or dappled shade.
  • Well-drained soil: Opt for a mix rich in organic matter and pH neutral.
  • Humidity: Maintain a moist environment, preferably in a steamier room or by regular misting.
  • Water: Keep the soil consistently moist; water when the top of the soil feels slightly dry to touch.
  • Temperature: Aim for a range between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit (16-21 degrees Celsius).

Ideal Growing Conditions for Maidenhair Fern

Maidenhair Ferns (Adiantum spp.), known for their delicate, fan-shaped leaves, demand slightly different conditions. These ferns thrive in:

  • Indirect sunlight: Place them in a spot with diffused light, avoiding direct sunlight.
  • Humidity: Provide humid conditions by misting regularly or using a humidity tray.
  • Soil: Choose a well-draining, moisture-retentive mix with a slightly acidic to neutral pH.
  • Water: Keep the soil moist but not wet with a consistent watering schedule, never allowing the soil to dry out.
  • Temperature: Maintain a temperature between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (16- 21 degrees Celsius) for optimal growth.

In summary, both Mother Ferns and Maidenhair Ferns enjoy similar growing conditions, such as indirect light, consistent moisture, humidity, and similar temperature ranges. However, they have distinct preferences for soil and watering. By following these guidelines, you can successfully grow and maintain these beautiful ferns in your home or garden.

Propagation Methods

Propagation techniques vary depending on the fern species. In this section, we’ll discuss the propagation methods for Mother Fern and Maidenhair Fern.

Mother Fern Propagation

Mother Ferns (Asplenium bulbiferum) are named so because they produce baby fernlets (plantlets) on the surface of their fronds. Propagating these plants is relatively simple:

  1. Carefully remove a plantlet from the frond once it has developed small roots.
  2. Prepare a pot with well-draining and moist potting mix.
  3. Place the plantlet on the soil surface with its roots touching the soil.
  4. Keep the plantlet in a humid environment, such as a terrarium, or cover it with a plastic bag to maintain humidity.
  5. Ensure that the soil remains consistently moist, but not overly wet.

After some weeks, the plantlet will establish itself and begin to grow as a separate plant.

Maidenhair Fern Propagation

Maidenhair Ferns (Adiantum) can be propagated through two methods: division and spores.


Dividing a Maidenhair Fern is more straightforward compared to propagating with spores. Follow these steps:

  1. Gently remove the fern from its pot, exposing the roots.
  2. Carefully divide the plant into two or more sections, ensuring that each section has sufficient roots and foliage.
  3. Plant each division into a new pot with fresh, moist potting mix.
  4. Keep the new plants in a humid environment and maintain consistent soil moisture.


Spore propagation for Maidenhair Ferns is a more challenging method but rewarding for experienced gardeners. Here’s how:

  1. Locate mature fronds with brown, fuzzy spores on the underside.
  2. Cut one or more fronds with these spores, using clean, sharp scissors.
  3. Place the cut fronds spore-side down on a moist, sterile medium (such as damp paper towels) in a covered container.
  4. After several weeks, the spores will germinate and develop into tiny fern prothalli.
  5. Once prothalli produce small roots and leaves, transplant them to pots with a well-draining, moist potting mix.

Keep in mind that spore propagation may take longer and require more patience than division. However, proper care and attention during the propagation process will result in successful growth for both Mother Ferns and Maidenhair Ferns.

Common Issues and Solutions

Mother Fern Issues

Mother Ferns are beautiful plants that can serve as great additions to any garden or indoor space. However, they can face some difficulties if not appropriately cared for.

Overwatering is a common issue with Mother Ferns. When they have too much water, their leaves may turn yellow or develop root rot. To avoid this, ensure proper drainage systems are in place and only water the fern when the top layer of soil feels dry. Regularly check the plant for any signs of disease or pests, as these can lead to deterioration in overall health.

Mother Ferns also require proper humidity levels to thrive. When the air is too dry, their fronds may become brown and crispy. To combat this, consider using a humidity tray or a humidifier to maintain the ideal humidity levels for the plant.

Maidenhair Fern Issues

Maidenhair Ferns can also experience some difficulties when not properly cared for. One of the most common issues with these ferns is the curling of their leaves. This usually occurs due to low humidity levels. Maidenhair Ferns need a humid environment to flourish, so if you notice curling leaves, try to increase the humidity levels by misting the plant or using a humidifier (Fiddle and Thorn).

Another problem with Maidenhair Ferns is their sensitivity to changes in their environment. They may suffer if they’re placed in the wrong location, resulting in dried out or curled-up leaves. To avoid this, ensure they’re placed in an ideal spot, one with indirect sunlight and a temperature between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (16- 21 degrees Celsius) (Plantophiles).

Both Mother Ferns and Maidenhair Ferns are susceptible to pests such as aphids, scale insects, and whiteflies. Regularly inspect the plants for these pests and treat the affected areas with insecticidal soap or an appropriate pesticide.

In summary, both types of ferns can face issues related to watering, humidity, and pests. By understanding these common problems and implementing the appropriate solutions, you can ensure that your Mother Fern and Maidenhair Fern thrive in your space.

Landscape Use and Design Ideas

Mother Fern in Landscaping

Mother fern (Asplenium bulbiferum) is an appealing option for landscaping due to its lush green foliage and interesting growth habit. It’s commonly known as “hen and chickens” due to its unique ability to grow baby plants directly on its fronds, which can create a dense, layered green environment in the garden. This fern thrives in partial shade and prefers moist but well-drained soil, making it ideal for creating a vibrant shade garden.

Some design ideas for incorporating mother fern into your landscape include:

  • Planting it alongside paths or walkways to create a lush, textural border
  • Using it as a groundcover in shaded areas where grass struggles to grow
  • Combining it with other shade-loving plants like hostas and astilbes for a diverse and visually captivating garden
  • Creating a fern-specific garden bed to showcase various ferns for a cohesive, green tapestry

Maidenhair Fern in Landscaping

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum) is another excellent option for landscape design, thanks to its delicate, feathery fronds that soften the appearance of shaded garden areas. Suitable for USDA zones 3 to 8, maidenhair fern prefers moist soil and partial to full shade, sharing similar growing requirements as the mother fern.

Consider these ideas when incorporating maidenhair fern into your landscape:

  • Utilizing it to create a peaceful, tranquil atmosphere around a garden bench or seating area
  • Planting it near water features, such as ponds or streams, to emphasize the naturalistic appearance of these settings
  • Mixing with other delicate plants like ferns, mosses, and Japanese maples for an airy woodland garden aesthetic
  • Using the taller varieties in vertical garden designs to provide height and create a layered, dynamic visual display

Both mother fern and maidenhair fern offer distinctive benefits that can enhance the beauty of any shaded garden area. Consider the design ideas presented here to make the most out of these attractive, versatile ferns in your landscape project.

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