An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions/Ophioglossaceae

Family 1.   OphioglossàceaePreslTent. Pterid. 6.   1836.
Adder's-tongue Family.

Succulent plants consisting of a short fleshy rootstock bearing one or several leaves and numerous fibrous often fleshy roots. Leaves erect or pendent, consisting of a simple, palmately or dichotomously lobed, pinnately compound or decompound, sessile or stalked, sterile blade, and one or several separate stalked fertile spikes or panicles (sporophyls), borne on a common stalk. Sporanges formed from the interior tissues, naked, each opening by a transverse slit. Spores yellow, of one sort. Prothallia subterranean, usually devoid of chlorophyl and associated with an endophytic mycorhiza.

Five genera, the following represented on both hemispheres; the others tropical.

Veins reticulate; sporanges cohering in a distichous spike. 1. Ophioglossum.
Veins free; sporanges distinct, borne in spikes or panicles. 2. Botrychium.


1.   Ophioglóssum[Tourn.] L.Sp. Pl. 1062.   1753.

Small terrestrial plants, with small, erect, fleshy, often tuberous, rootstocks bearing fibrous naked roots and 1-6 slender, erect leaves, these consisting usually of a short, cylindric common stalk, bearing at its summit a simple entire lanceolate to reniform sessile or short-stalked sterile blade with freely anastomosing veins and usually a single simple long-stalked spike, the sporophyl, formed of 2 rows of large coalescent sporanges; spores copious, sulphur yellow. Bud for the following season borne at the apex of the rootstock, exposed, distinct and free from the leaf of the present season.  [Name from the Greek, signifying the tongue of a snake, in allusion to the form of the narrow spike.]

About 45 species of wide geographic distribution. Besides the following 4 others occur in the southern and western United States and Alaska. Type species: Ophioglossum vulgatum L.

Leaves usually solitary; sterile blade obtuse or acutish, never apiculate. 1. O. vulgatum.
Leaves often in pairs; sterile blade acutish or apiculate.
Sterile blade elliptic, rarely ovate, apiculate; areoles broad. 2. O. Engelmanni.
Sterile blade lanceolate, acutish, somewhat apiculate; areoles narrow. 3. O. arenarium..


  1.  Ophioglossum vulgàtumL.
Adder's tongue   Fig. 1.

Ophioglossum vulgatum L. Sp. Pl. 1062.  1753.

Rootstock short, oblique or erect; leaves usually solitary, 3–16 long, the common stalk usually one-half or more above ground and constituting one-third to two-thirds the length of the plant; sterile blade lanceolate, oblanceolate or spatulate, elliptical, oblong or ovate, 1–5 long, ½–2 broad, sessile, obtuse or acutish, the middle areoles long and narrow, the outer ones shorter and hexagonal, with included veins; sporophyl ¾–2 long, borne on a stalk 4–10 long, solitary, apiculate from the prolongation of the axis.

In moist meadows and boggy thickets, Prince Edward Island to Ontario, south to Florida.   Also in Europe and Asia.  May-Aug.  The genus is also called Adder's-fern or -spear. Snake's-tongue. Serpent's-tongue.


2.  Ophioglossum engelmánniPrantl.
Engelmann's Adder's-tongue   Fig. 2.

Ophioglossum Engelmanni Prantl, Ber. Deuts. Bot. Ges. 1:351.  1883.

Rootstock cylindric, with long brown roots; leaves commonly 2-5, mostly fertile, 3'-9' long, the common stalk often mostly below the ground and usually sheathed by the more or less persistent bases of old leaves; sterile blade elliptic or rarely ovate, 1’-3½’ long, ½'-2' broad, sessile, usually acute, apiculate, with wide oblique areoles containing numerous anastomosing or free veins; sporophyl 6"-12" long borne on a stalk 1'-4' long, apiculate; sporanges 12-27 pairs.

In damp, sterile places or on rocks in cedar woods, mainly in the Central States, from Indiana and Virginia to Louisiana, Texas and Arizona. April-Oct.


  3.  Ophioglossum arenàriumE.G.Britton.
Sand Adder's-tongue   Fig. 3.

O. arenarium E. G. Britton, Bull. Torr. Club, 24: 555. pl. 318.  1897.

Rootstock slightly thickened, with numerous fleshy, spreading (sometimes proliferous?) roots;   leaves slender but rigidly erect, single or often in pairs, mostly fertile, 2–7 long, the common stalk one-half its length below ground and constituting one-third or less the length of the plant;  sterile blade lanceolate, with a long tapering base, or somewhat elliptic, 1–2 long, 3–6 broad, acutish or somewhat apiculate, with long, narrow areoles with a few indistinct included veinlets, the outer areoles shorter; sporophyl 6–13 long, borne on a slender stalk 2–3½ long, apiculate; sporanges 12-26 pairs.

Gregarious in a colony of many plants in sandy ground under trees at Holly Beach, New Jersey, the type locality. Also in New York and New Hampshire. July.


2.   BotrýchiumSw.Schrad. Journ. Bot. 1800²: 8.   1801.

Fleshy terrestrial plants, with stout erect rootstocks, bearing clustered, fleshy, often corrugated roots and 1 or sometimes 2 or 3 erect leaves, these consisting of a short cylindric wholly or partially hypogean common stalk, bearing at its summit a simple 1-3-pinnately compound or decompound free-veined sterile blade and a single long-stalked fertile spike or 1-4-pinnate panicle, the sporophyl, with numerous globular distinct sporanges in two rows, sessile or nearly so; spores copious, sulphur yellow. Bud for the following season at the apex of the rootstock, enclosed within the base of the common stalk, either wholly concealed or visible along one side. [Name in allusion to the grape-like arrangement of the sporanges.]

About 20 species, largely natives of the temperate regions of both hemispheres. Type species: Botrychium Lunaria (L.) Sw.

Buds of the following season wholly concealed within the base of the common stalk; sterile blade more or less fleshy; cells of the epidermis straight.
Sporophyl and sterile blade both erect in the bud. 1. B. simplex.
Sporophyl or sterile blade, or both, at least slightly bent over in bud.
Buds glabrous; sterile blade pinnate (or, in no. 10, sometimes subternate); spores maturing in early summer.
Sterile blade slightly bent over in bud, clasping the nearly erect sporophyl.
Leaves usually stout, the sterile blade nearly sessile, oblong, with close (often imbricate) segments. 2. B. Lunaria.
Leaves slender, the sterile blade usually stalked, oblong to deltoid, with cuneate mostly distant segments.
Sterile blade distinctly bent over at the tip in the bud, always pinnately divided; segments 3-4 pairs. 3. B. onondagense.
Sterile blade with the tip slightly inclined in bud, entire, or with 1-3 pairs of smaller segments. 4. B. tenebrosum.
Sterile blade and sporophyl bent over in bud.
Sterile blade distinctly stalked. 5. B. neglectum.
Sterile blade closely sessile. 10. B. lanceolatum.
Buds pilose; sterile blades subternately divided; spores maturing in late summer or autumn.
Sterile blades membranous in drying; segments mostly acutish, serrulate to laciniate.
Segments mostly acute or acutish, serrulate-dentate. 6. B. obliquum.
Segments laciniate, often deeply so. 7. B. dissectum.
Sterile blades thick, leathery in drying; segments obtuse, crenate to sinuate.
Leaves 3–7 long; sterile blade at most 2 broad; segments few. 8. B. Matricariae.
Leaves 8–18 long; sterile blade 4–8 broad; segments numerous. 9. B. silaifolium.
Bud of the following season exposed along one side; sterile blade very thin; cells of the epidermis flexuous. 11. B. virginianum.


1.  Botrychium símplexE. Hitchcock.
Hitchcock's or Little Grape-fern.   Fig. 4.

B. simplex E. Hitchcock, Amer. Journ. Sci. 6: 310.  1823.

Leaves 2–6 long, slender and variable, the common stalk usually about half under ground; sterile blade and sporophyl straight in the bud. Sterile blade usually shortstalked, thickish, ovate, obovate or oblong, simple and roundish, or pinnately 3-7-lobed (rarely binate or ternate, the divisions pinnately lobed), the segments cuneate to somewhat lunulate, usually apart, the veins forking from the base; sporophyl long-stalked (often one-half or more the height of the plant), simple or 1-2-pinnate.

In meadows and pastures, Prince Edward Island to Maryland, California and Oregon. Europe and Asia.  May-June.


  2.  Botrychium Lunària  (L.) Sw.
Moonwort.   Moon-fern.   Fig. 5.

Osmunda Lunaria L. Sp. Pl. 1064.  1753.

B. lunaria Sw. Schrad. Journ. Bot. 1800²: 110.  1801.

Leaves very fleshy, 2–12 long, variable, the common stalk nearly all above ground and constituting about one-half the length of the plant, the sterile blade bent over in the bud only at the apex, clasping the nearly erect sporophyl.  Sterile blade nearly sessile, broadly oblong, once pinnately divided into 2 to 8 pairs of lunate subentire, crenate or somewhat incised, often close or imbricate segments, the radiating veins several times forked; sporophyl 2-3-pinnate, paniculate.

Newfoundland to Alaska, south to Connecticut, central New York, Michigan, British Columbia and in the Rocky Mountains to Colorado.  Europe and Asia.  June-July.


3.  Botrychium onondagénseUnderw.
Underwood's Moonwort.   Fig. 6.

Botrychium onondagense Underwood, Bull. Torr. Club, 30: 47.  1903.

Leaves 4–6½ long, slender, the common stalk slender, rather weak and spreading, 3–4¾ long, nearly all above ground, the sterile blade bent over in the bud only at the apex, clasping the nearly erect sporophyl.  Sterile blade oblong, often narrowly so, ¾–l⅓ long, distinctly stalked (up to ), pinnately divided into 3 to 4 (casually 7) pairs of mostly distant broadly cuneate subentire to flabellately lobed segments; sporophyl ½–1 long, mostly 2-pinnate, borne upon a slender stalk 1–1½ long.

On shaded rocky slopes, near Syracuse, New York.  Also in Montana and northern Michigan.


  4.  Botrychium tenebròsumA. A. Eaton.
Eaton's Grape-fern.   Fig. 7.

Botrychium tenebrosum A. A. Eaton, Fern Bull. 7: 8.  1899.

Leaves 1–9 long, slender, delicate and lax, shining, light or yellowish green, eventually decumbent and stramineous, the common stalk very long, usually more than half the length of the plant; buds rather small, the sporophyl erect, the tip of the sterile blade slightly inclined.  Sterile blade short-stalked, simple, lobed, or usually with 1–3 pairs of distant, alternate, lunulate or cuneate, decurrent, usually entire segments, the apex emarginate; sporophyl short-stalked, simple or rarely a little branched, flattened, the large sporangia somewhat immersed in rows or groups on either side.

In rich moist woods and swamps, New York and New England.


5.  Botrychium negléctumWood.
Wood's Grape-fern.   Fig. 8.

Botrychium neglectum Wood, Class Book Bot. ed. 2, 635.  1847.

Botrychium matricariaefolium A. Br. in Doell, Rhein. Fl. 24.  1843.

Leaves 2–12 long, often very fleshy, erect, bright green, the common stalk relatively stout, nearly all above ground, devoid of sheathing bases of previous years; buds stout, the sporophyl and sterile blade both bent over at the tip, the latter enfolding the former.  Sterile blade short-stalked, ½°–2¾° long, oblong, ovate or deltoid-ovate, acute, pinnate or deeply 2-pinnatifid, the segments oblong or ovate, obtuse, crenately lobed or divided, the divisions ovateoblong sporophyl 2-3-pinnate, with terete branches, the sporanges sessile or short-stalked.

In grassy woods and swamps.  Nova Scotia to Maryland, west to South Dakota and Nebraska.  Also in Washington and in Europe.  May-June.


  6.  Botrychium oblìquumMuhl.
Ternate Grape-fern.   Fig. 9.

Botrychium obliquum Muhl. Willd. Sp. Pl. 5: 63.  1810.

Bolrychium ternatum var. obliquum D. C. Eaton, Ferns N. Am. 1: 149.  1878.

Leaves 6–20 long, usually robust, the common stalk short and under ground; bud pilose, the sporophyl and sterile blade bent down.   Sterile blade usually long-stalked, commonly 2–5 broad, subpentagonal, subternately 3-pinnatifid, or 3-pinnate below, the principal divisions stalked; ultimate segments obliquely ovate or oblong-lanceolate, acutish, the terminal ones elongate, ½–1 long; margins variously serrulate-dentate; sporophyl long-stalked, 3-4-pinnate, usually stout.

In moist woods and thickets, or open slopes, New Brunswick to Florida, Missouri and Minnesota.   Very variable especially in New York and New England.  Several forms have the divisions of the sterile blade longer-stalked and lax, with fewer and rounded segments, or the segments usually long and acute.


7.  Botrychium disséctumSpreng.
Cut-leaved Grape-fern, or Moonwort.   Fig. 10.

Botrychium dissectum Spreng. Anleit. 3: 172.  1804.

Botrychium ternatum var. dissectum D. C. Eaton, Ferns N. Am. 1: 150.  1878.

Leaves 8–16 long, usually slender, the common stalk short, under ground; bud pilose, the sporophyl and sterile blade both bent down. Sterile blade long-stalked, subpentagonal, rarely more than 6 broad, subternately divided, the basal divisions .unequally and broadly deltoid, decompound, the upper and secondary pinnae deltoid-lanceolate, pinnate, with laciniate or deeply cut pinnules, the ultimate divisions divergent, narrow and incised; sporophyl 2-4-pinnate, usually long-stalked.

In low woods and thickets or wooded slopes, Maine to Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana. Congested forms closely resemble the preceding.


  8.  Botrychium matricàriae  (Schrank) Spreng.
Grape-fern.   Fig. 11.

Osmunda malricariae Schrank, Baier. Fl. 2: 419.  1789.

Botrychium rutaceum Sw. Schrad. Journ. Bot. 1800²: 110.  1801.

Botrychium matricarioides Willd. Sp. Pl. 5: 62.  1810.

Botrychium rutaefolium A. Br. in Doell, Rhein. Fl. 24.  1843.

Leaves single or in pairs, the fertile 3–7 long, usually slender, fleshy, coriaceous in drying, somewhat glaucous, the common stalk ½–2 long, wholly under ground; bud densely pilose, both sporophyl and sterile blade bent over. Sterile blade stalked (¾–2), triangular or subpentagonal, 1–2 broad, nearly as long, subternately divided, 2-3-pinnate, the basal pinnae nearly equalling the middle division, the ultimate divisions few, oval or obliquely ovate, rounded, the margins obscurely crenate or sinuate; sporophyl long-stalked, large, 2-3-pinnate.

In old meadows and upon open hillsides, Labrador and Newfoundland to New Brunswick, northern New England and New York. Reported from northern Michigan. Also in Europe.  Aug.-Sept.


9.  Botrychium silaifòliumPresl.
Leathery Grape-fern.   Fig. 12.

B. silaifolium Presl, Rel. Haenk. 1: 76.  1825.

Botrychium ternatum subvar. intermedium D. C. Eaton, Ferns N. Am. 1: 149.  1878.

B. occidental Underw. Bull. Torr. Club, 25: 538.  1898.

Leaves single or sometimes two, 8'-18' long, thick and fleshy, coriaceous in drying, glaucous, the common stalk short and stout, wholly under ground; bud silky pubescent, the sporophyl and sterile blade both bent down. Sterile blade broadly triangular or subpentagonal, 4'-8' broad, nearly as long, subternate, the stalk 1'-4' long, the basal pinnae large and 3-pinnate, the ultimate segments numerous, ovate to obovate, obtuse, cuneate, adnate, the margins irregularly crenulate; sporophyl 2-5-pinnate, long-stalked, stout and diffuse.

In moist meadows, sandy pastures and borders of low woods, northern New England to British Columbia, Oregon, Idaho and Minnesota.  Aug.-Sept.


  10.  Botrychium lanceolàtum  (S. G. Gmel.) Angs.
Lance-leaved Grape-fern.   Fig. 13.

Osmuuda lanceolata S. G. Gmel. Nov. Comment. Acad. Petrop. 12: 516.  1768.

B. lanceolatum Angs. Bot. Notiser, 1854: 68.  1854.

Leaves 2'-12' long, fleshy, the common stalk nearly all above ground, long, usually threefourths the length of the plant; sporophyl bent down in the bud, the sterile blade recurved upon it. Sterile blade sessile, ¾'-2½' broad, nearly as long, either subternately parted with divisions acutely pinnatifid, or broadly deltoid, with 3-4 pairs of deeply pinnatifid pinnae, the segments ovate or ovate-oblong and lobed; sporophyl short-stalked, 2-3-pinnate, the branches usually stout and diffuse.

In meadows and moist woods, Nova Scotia to Alaska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado and Washington. Europe and Asia.  June-July.


11.  Botrychium virginiànum  (L.) Sw.
Virginia Grape-fern.   Fig. 14.

Osmunda virginiana L. Sp. Pl. 1064.  1753.

Botrychium virginianum Sw. Schrad. Journ. Bot. 1800²: 111.  1801.

B. gracile Pursh. Fl. Am. Sept. 656.   1814.

Leaves 4° long, the common stalk slender, nearly all above ground, comprising one-half to two-thirds the length of the plant; bud pilose, both the sporophyl and sterile blade wholly bent down. Sterile blade nearly or quite sessile, spreading, membranous, deltoid, 2–16 broad, nearly as long, ternate, the short-stalked primary divisions 1-2-pinnate, the numerous segments 1-2-pinnatifid, the ultimate segments oblong, toothed at the apex; sporophyl long-stalked, 2-3-pinnate.

In rich woods, Labrador to British Columbia, Washington, Arizona, and the Gulf states. Mexico, Europe and Asia.  June-July.  Rattlesnake-fern, Hemlock-leaved-moonwort.