Asplenium trichomanes Maidenhair spleenwort

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Epithet means "soft or thin hair." Also from Theophrastus, "hair madness."

description: The rhizome is ascending. Glossy reddish-brown stipes with a flattened groove are one-fourth to one-third of the frond length and barely visible under the foliage. Some are persistent for years with batons of upright, naked spikes. Narrow, once-pinnate blades are linear with 20 to 30 pairs of round to oblong, matte green pinnae. Sori and indu-sia are linear in a herringbone pattern.

Asplenium trichomanes is a botanically complex species with chromosome numbers, ecology, and to a certain extent morphology factoring in identification. Subspecies and proposed subspecies number 20 in 2005. The most recognized are subsp. trichomanes with a strong preference for acidic habitats. Distinguishing characteristics according to 0llgaard and Tind (1993) are, "Plants growing on rock walls tend to arch away and down from the substrate; petiole (stipe) red-brown; the pinnae are shed from the ageing leaves, leaving the persisting leafless midribs and petioles as a tuft for several years." Subsp. quadrivalens is the lime lover of the lot, adorning castle walls and decorating European antiquities. Again quoting 0llgaard and Tind (1993), "Plants growing on walls tend to have the leaves appressed to the substrate; the petiole (stipe) is dark blackish-brown; most pinnae persist on old leaves until the whole leaf is shed." Finer species splitting yields subsp. has-tatum, which grows on limestone rocks and has arrowhead-shaped pinnules, and subsp. inexpectans, which has "the blade tapering abruptly at the apex, the pinnae closely set . . . and usually perpendicular throughout most of the blade ... often

Asplenium Bulbiferum
Asplenium trichomanes 'Cristatum' in the Baggett garden.

parallel-sided, convex and saddle-shaped with strongly cre-nate margins" (0llgaard and Tind 1993). Subsp. pachyrachis has recently been given species status as A. csikii. In addition all the subspecies interbreed.

range and habitat: The maidenhair spleenwort specializes according to subspecies as noted above. In all of its configurations, it is a circumpolar cosmopolitan with populations in every continent except Antarctica.

culture and comments: This is one of the finest miniature ferns for inclusion in the rock garden community. Slugs ignore it and the tidy presentation makes it an ideal showpiece in the garden's foreground. In addition, it is a refined low element for the mixed plantings of container landscapes. Light shade to partial sun, without hot midday treatment, and a coarsely mixed soil give this species sustenance. The assorted attractive cultivars are equally adaptable and come true from spores.

Should all else fail, a tea of Asplenium trichomanes (mixed with olive oil) was once reputed to cure baldness.(Drop a sprig or two into your husband's tea.) By all appearances it has not been successful.

'Bipinnatum' from England, while not bipinnate is vigorous, often reaching 12 in. (30 cm) or more. It adjusts easily to cultivation in average garden soil.

'Cristatum' (crested) has mild to extensively carved pinnae tips with fans of crested foliage.

'Incisum' (cut) resembles the type, but with finely cut pinnae. It is usually sterile. Fertile plants are 'Incisum Moule'.

'Plumosum' (feathery) is gloriously ruffled throughout and a modestly showy favorite.

'Stuart Williams' is both crested and incised. Though not often in the trade in the united States, it is popular in Britain and Europe.

Asplenium trichomanes 'Incisum'with Cyclamen hederifolium in the Horder garden.

Asplenium trichomanes 'Plumosum' in the foreground of a mixed border of low ferns under the canopy of Acer palmatum.

Asplenium viride nourished in limestone in the Duryee garden.

Asplenium aethiopicum and Cheilanthes wootoniiin a well-drained site in the Brotherton garden.

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