Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Venus's-hair Fern - Adiantum capillus-veneris   L.
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Section 2 » Order Polypodiales » Family Pteridaceae
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AuthorL.
DistributionLong known to be of natural occurrence on bluffs at the north end of Lake Waccamaw (Columbus County). There are several other collections, for which one website editor (Sorrie) considers one from the mountains in Buncombe County to be of natural occurrence, and others as uncertain provenance or clearly non-natural (and not mapped). The mountain specimen did not come to light until 2019, and thus it does not appear in any other database: "Montreat, mountain ravines, rare", 1923, J.H. Davis s.n. (UNCC).

This is a Southern species of very wide east-west range. It ranges north to southern NC, KY, SD, and CA, south to the Gulf Coast and Mexico. Throughout much of tropical Latin America, Africa, Eurasia.
AbundanceStill present at the Columbus County site, where the population is doing well, but of course is still precarious. Obviously extremely rare in NC, with just two locations deemed to be natural. This is a State Threatened species.
HabitatThe Lake Waccamaw site is a vertical bluff with an exposure of marl, upon which it grows. This species requires high pH rock surfaces, always calcareous, usually where humid or dampened by spray (from waves, waterfalls, etc.). Far inland sites within the range are from cracks, crevices, etc., in limestone rocks -- but normally where the rocks are dampened by moisture.
PhenologyFruits in June and July.
IdentificationThis is a familiar garden plant, but few people have seen a/the wild/natural population in NC or in other states. It is unmistakable owing to the odd shape of the pinnules. This fern has bi-pinnately dissected leaves, with a stipe (petiole) of 1 foot or more, and a frond often 1-1.5 feet long. The pinnae are alternate, 5-10 on each side of the rachis. Each pinna is composed of a handful of fan-shaped pinnules, each pinnule about 2/3-inch wide and about 1/2-inch long, with some incisions, to look a bit like a baseball glove. The plants typically hang downward from the rock surface, in a graceful manner. The fingernail size of the numerous fan- or glove-shaped pinnules readily separates it from all other ferns in the state.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Southern Maidenhair, Southern Maidenhair Fern
State RankS1
Global RankG5
State StatusT
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