Adiantum formosum


Adiantum: From the Greek a- 'without, lacking' and diantos 'moistened', the fronds of this fern are supposed to remain dry after submersion in water
formosum: From the Latin formosus 'beautiful'

Common Name(s)

Giant maidenhair, Plumed maidenhair

Current Conservation Status

2012 - At Risk - Relict

Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2012
The conservation status of all known New Zealand vascular plant taxa at the rank of species and below were reassessed in 2012 using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS). This report includes a statistical summary and brief notes on changes since 2009 and replaces all previous NZTCS lists for vascular plants. Authors: Peter J. de Lange, Jeremy R. Rolfe, Paul D. Champion, Shannel P. Courtney, Peter B. Heenan, John W. Barkla, Ewen K. Cameron, David A. Norton and Rodney A. Hitchmough. File size: 792KB

Previous Conservation Status

2009 - At Risk - Relict
2004 - Non Resident Native - Vagrant


2012 - RR, SO
2009 - SO, RR


Adiantum formosum R.Br.



Flora Category

Vascular - Native

NVS Species Code


The National Vegetation Survey (NVS) Databank is a physical archive and electronic databank containing records of over 94,000 vegetation survey plots - including data from over 19,000 permanent plots. NVS maintains a standard set of species code abbreviations that correspond to standard scientific plant names from the Ngä Tipu o Aotearoa - New Zealand Plants database.

Structural Class





Indigenous. North Island only, with historic records from near Ahipara (Reef Point), Herekino, and the North Wairoa River near Dargaville. The only extant populations now known occur along either side of the Manawatu River Gorge, and in forest near the eastern and western ends, as well as around Woodville. Present in Eastern Australia (Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria) where it is abundant and under no threat.


A species of alluvial forest and gorge sides. Usually found in shaded sites amidst drifts of leaf litter with little (if any) associated vegetation. It rarely grows in full sun.


Tall, widely creeping fern form diffuse patches up to 3 x 1.8 m. Rhizome buried (rarely at surface), long-creeping, much-branched to 10 mm diameter; scales golden brown with an acuminate apex and blunt marginal teeth. Fronds usually widely and irregularly placed along rhizome, up to 1.8 m tall. Stipe up to 0.9 m, wiry, basally dull black, distally glossy black, scabrous, finely tuberculate. Frond lamina 0.15-1 x 0.15-0.9 m, 2-4-pinnate, deltoid to pentagonal, firmly membranous to subcoriaceous; adaxial surfaces of rachises and pinna stalks clad with dense antrorse red-brown hairs. Higher order segments of frond (except pinnules) elliptic or triangular. Primary pinnae progressively reducing in size and degree of branching from base to apex. Pinnules symmetric, flabellate or dimidiate and rectangular to trapeziform, undersides glabrous or sparsely clothed with pale divergent (patent) hairs; distal margins irregularly lobed, dentate when sterile. Sori 1-10 on distal margins only, 1 or 2 per lobe; soral flaps lunate to subreniform, glabrous.

Similar Taxa

Easily recognised by the long creeping usually buried rhizomes, and very tall (up to 1.8 m) 3-4-pinnate fronds.


Not applicable - spore producing

Flower Colours

No Flowers


Not applicable - spore producing

Propagation Technique

Easily grown from rooted pieces. Does best in a fertile, free draining, moist but not excessively wet soil in filtered light (semi-shade). Once established specimens should not be disturbed. A very attractive plant which is an excellent subject to plant under tall trees in a woodland garden setting.


It would appear that this species is spreading vegetatively as preliminary studies on spore germination suggest that while viable spores are produced they cannot germinate within the typical range of New Zealand temperatures (J. E. Braggins & S. Van der Mast pers. comm.). The only known wild populations are thriving but are rather localised and vulnerable to weeds

Chromosome No.

2n = 116

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family


Life Cycle and Dispersal

Minute spores are wind dispersed (Thorsen et al., 2009).


Fact Sheet Prepared for NZPCN by P.J. de Lange (Updated July 2004). Description adapted from Bostock (1998).

References and further reading

Bostock, P.D. 1998: Adiantaceae. Flora of Australia 48: 248-263.

Thorsen, M. J.; Dickinson, K. J. M.; Seddon, P. J. 2009. Seed dispersal systems in the New Zealand flora. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 2009 Vol. 11 No. 4 pp. 285-309

This page last updated on 6 Dec 2014