Arizona Xerophytic Ferns:  Identification Guide
Desert Ferns INTRODUCTION
Desert Botany Home

NEW - 12/08:  Trans-Pecos Texas Ferns:  Identification Guide

New to desert ferns?  Learn these common southern Arizona species first:
Pellaea truncata, Argyrochosma limitanea, Astrolepis cochisensis, Astrolepis sinuata,
Cheilanthes lindheimeri, Notholaena standleyi, Bommeria hispida.

Click PHOTO thumbnails for LARGE COMPOSITE IMAGES.  Photos are about 200K and may take some time to load.
Click BLACK AND WHITE thumbnails for DRAWINGS AND DIAGRAMS to aid in identification.
Links labelled "PHOTO" show several species of ferns growing together.

* Asterisk indicates species that occur in the U.S. only in Arizona.

Family DRYOPTERIDACEAE:  Wood Ferns    Typically "fernlike", northern.  Four near-xerophyte species in one genus in southern AZ.
Woodsia cochisensis
Leaves light green, bipinnate, pinnae toothed and blunt pointed, with slightly thickened margins.  Indusia are broad and scalelike.  Damp, shady rock ledges on granite or volcanics, southeastern AZ.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  W. plummerae (not shown) has sticky leaves that may be forked at the tip.
Woodsia phillipsii
Leaves light green, bipinnate, pinnae long and pointed, with thickened margins and cilia (tiny transparent "fringes") on toothed edges.  Indusia (partial coverings on sori) are narrow and fringelike.  Damp, shady rock ledges on granite or volcanics, southeastern AZ.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Other Woodsia do not have cilia on leaf edges or fringelike indusia.  They have fewer pinnules and the pinnae are blunt, not elongate.
POLYPODIACEAE:  Polypody Ferns    Humid temperate/tropical.  Two near-xerophyte species in two genera in southern AZ..
Pleopeltis riograndensis Rio Grande Scaly Polypody
Leaves pinnatifid, shining bright green when wet, curled and grayish-brown when dry, hygroscopic. Leaflets rounded to slightly pointed, with scattered brownish scales on the underside.  On shaded, mossy rocks in Madrean evergreen woodland, southeastern AZ.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Polypodium hesperium is larger and lacks scales on the underside.
Family PTERIDACEAE:  True Ferns    Large, diverse family of true xerophytes.  36 species in seven genera in southern AZ.
PELLAEA  Cliffbrakes
Leaves grayish green to bluish green with dark wiry stems.  Leaflets smooth, leathery, paler green underneath and without hair, scales, or white coating.  Leaflets on fertile leaves are distinctly smaller than those on sterile leaves, with edges rolled under to cover spores.  Lower part of leaf is usually bipinnate, tip is pinnate.
Sun or part shade among granite boulders and outcrops.  Some species are also found on limestone.
SIMILAR GENERA:  Argyrochosma has more crowded leaflets that have a white coating on the underside.
Pellaea atropurpurea   Purple-stemmed Cliffbrake
Triangular leaf with purplish-black stem.  Leaflets relatively few and large, long oval to blunt triangular.
Sterile fronds have broader leaflets than fertile fronds.  Widely distributed in the U.S. but uncommon.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Other Pellaea have smaller, more uniform leaflets. 
PHOTO:Pellaea atropurpurea (sterile and fertile leaflets) growing with Asplenium resliens.
P. lyngholmii (central AZ) is a hybrid between P. atropurpurea and P. truncata.
Pellaea intermedia Creeping Cliffbrake
Triangular grayish green leaf with pale brown to gray stem.  Leaflets flat, oval to nearly circular, without spines at tips.  Partial shade on limestone or granite.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Identify by round, coinlike leaflets and light-colored stem.  Sterile leaves of P. truncata
may look similar, but stems are dark and leaflets are typically more elongate and/or wavy-edged, with small spines at tips.
Pellaea truncata Spiny Cliffbrake
Leaves erect, tightly clustered, shrubby, grayish green, triangular, tripinnate near base, pinnate near tip.  The pinnate leaflets may be missing on older leaves, leaving the stem tip bare.  Leaflets oval, broad on sterile leaves and narrow on fertile leaves, with a tiny spine at the tip of each leaflet.  Most common Pellaea in our area.  On granite and rhyolite.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Identify by oval spine-tipped leaflets.  P. intermedia has round leaflets without spines.
One old SE AZ record of P. mucronata, a similar California species, may be a misidentification.

Pellaea ternifolia   Birdfoot Cliffbrake
Long narrow leaf, dark brown stem.  Leaflets ternate (grouped in threes); narrow oval or elliptic, with a small spine at the tip, grayish or bluish green.  Leaflet tips may be pointed, rounded, or square.  Some leaflet triplets may be incompletely divided.  Granite or rhyolite.  Southeast  AZ.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  See P. wrightiana.

Pellaea wrightiana  Hybrid between P. ternifolia & P. truncata
Leaves dark green to bluish green, long and narrow, with shining purple stem.  Similar to P. ternifolia but leaflets are longer and narrower, the lower leaflets may be in clusters of four or more (truly bipinnate, not just ternate) and plants may be larger and taller, like the robust, shrubby examples in the photo.  Full sun, granite and rhyolite.
PHOTO:  Pellaea wrightiana with Cheilanthes lindheimeri & Bommeria hispida.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  P. ternifolia, P. villosa
ARGYROCHOSMA  Silver Ferns
Leaves smooth, hairless, triangular or teardrop-shaped.  Stems smooth or slightly downy, dark and wiry.  Leaflets 2-5 pinnate; undersides may have a white waxy or mealy coating. Segments at tips of leaflets are stalked and entire. Sori are scattered in thin lines parallel to the edge of the leaflet.
SIMILAR GENERA:  Pellaea is green underneath and leaflet shapes are different. 
Notholaena terminal segments are stalkless and pinnatifid.
 Photo from
Mexican botanist
Carlos Velazco
HERE.
*Argyrochosma incana
Small, lacy.  Leaflets lobed, margins not inrolled.  Shady places at the base of granite or rhyolite boulders, a few localities in southeastern AZ.  Several known sites have burned or sustained other damage since 2006. 
SIMILAR SPECIES:  A. limitanea has smaller, more numerous leaflets that are oval, not lobed, and is more widespread in distribution.  A. jonesii has larger leaflets and its range does not overlap with A. incana.
Argyrochosma jonesii
Leaves bluish-green, triangular, bipinnate (basal leaflets may be tripinnate), with thin black stems.  Leaflets stalked, triangular or heart-shaped with lobes at the base, relatively large (to 1 cm).  Damp, shady, protected hollows in limestone outcrops, Sonoran Desert.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  The relatively large heart-shaped leaflets are distinctive.
Argyrochosma limitanea ssp. limitanea
Leaves up to 4 or 5-pinnate, triangular to pointed-oval.  Leaflets minute, bluish green (gray or pale tan when dry), long oval, waxy white underneath.  Stems are longer than the leaves.  Shady cracks in any kind of rock, usually under a tree or shrub.  Nearly throughout AZ.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  A. limitanea ssp. mexicana is restricted to extreme southeast AZ and has smaller, narrower leaves with fewer and slightly larger leaflets.
ASTROLEPIS  Scaly Cloak Ferns
Leaves pinnate, dark green, long and narrow.  Leaflets have tiny white star-shaped scales on the upper surface and fringed white to brownish ribbonlike scales on the lower surface.  Sori are often clustered between lobes.  Full sun on rocky slopes or ridgetops.  The most sun-tolerant of the xerophytic ferns.
SIMILAR GENERA:  Both types of leaflet scales are unique to this genus.  In our area, the narrow, pinnate leaves are also distinctive.
Astrolepis cochisensis  ssp. arizonica  Cochise Cloak Fern, Narrow Cloak Fern
Very narrow bluish or grayish green leaves in arched, open sprays.  Leaflets oval to nearly circular, 0-3 shallow lobes.  Upper surface speckled with persistent white scales.  Small felted brown-dotted white scales on underside.  Sun to part shade on weathered granite or feldspar-rich volcanics. FNA lists two AZ subspecies based on spore size and substrate:  subsp. arizonica (granite & volcanics); subsp. cochisensis (limestone).
SIMILAR SPECIES:  In the field, the two subspecies differ in substrate and very slightly in growth habit.
Other Astrolepis have larger leaflets that are more obviously lobed.
Astrolepis cochisensis ssp. cochisensis 
Very narrow leaves in tight, erect, shrublike clusters.  Leaves very dark green, appearing almost black in bright sunlight, grayish brown when dry.  Leaflets oval to nearly circular, 0-3 very shallow lobes.  Upper surface speckled with persistent white scales.  Small felted brown-dotted white scales on underside.  Full sun on limestone or marble slopes and ridgetops; often abundant.  One of our most drought-tolerant ferns.
PHOTO:A. cochisensis ssp. cochisensis on limestone hilltop with Encelia farinosa, endangered Echinocactus horizonthalonius var. nichollii, and Agave deserti var. simplex.
Astrolepis integerrima
Leaves erect, tightly clustered to slightly spreading, bright green to dark green, pale tan when dry.  Leaflets variable in shape, even on a single leaf, and may be oval, elongate, or triangular.  They have several shallow, uneven lobes.  Dense, soft silvery-white scales cover the upper surface, even on older leaves.  Shaggy overlapping light brown scales cover the underside.  On limestone, full sun or part shade, solitary or in small groups.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  This species has the most irregular leaves and the largest scales of any Astrolepis.
Astrolepis sinuata  Wavy Scaly Cloak Fern
Leaves large, robust, arched or spreading.  Bright green, cinnamon brown when dry.  Leaflets have seven or more distinct rounded lobes that are all the same size and shape.  Young leaflets are dotted with white scales on the upper surface, white to tan or brownish scales on underside.  Older leaflets have few or no scales on top.  Full sun to part shade, reaches its largest size on limestone  but also grows on other rock types.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  This common fern is the largest Astrolepis, with the largest, most complex, and most distinctly lobed leaflets.
Astrolepis windhamii
Leaves erect, tightly clustered, dark green, purplish brown when dry.  Leaflets triangular to oval, with several shallow lobes, often with one or two more prominent lobes at the leaflet base.  Upper side dusted with tiny white scales that are often absent on old leaflets.  Scales on underside are shaggy white with brown streaks.  Full sun. Usually on limestone, occasionally on shale, siltstone, or mica schist.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  A. sinuata has more and larger lobes on the leaflets.  A. integerrima has more elongate leaflets, and larger, more persistent scales.  A. cochisensis has smaller, rounder leaflets with fewer lobes.
CHEILANTHES  Cloak Ferns or Lip Ferns   Largest and most diverse genus of xerophytic ferns.  Triangular bipinnate or tripinnate leaves, often hairy or fuzzy.  Stems often have long triangular brown-striped scales.  Edge of leaflets slightly  thickened, wavy, and rolled under to partially cover sori.
For this guide, species are divided into two groups based on leaflet shape.
SIMILAR GENERA:  The most "fernlike" of the xerophytes.  Most other desert ferns are not hairy.  Beadlike leaflets are unique to Cheilanthes.
CHEILANTHES species with "beaded" leaflets (segments convex or domed).
Cheilanthes covillei
Triangular dark green to bright green leaves in tight clusters.  Leaves bipinnate to tripinnate, with beadlike leaflets.  Upper surface smooth, though central leaf vein may have a few white scales.  Underside heavily covered with overlapping triangular ciliate scales that are tan at first, becoming white with brown stripes.  Shady cracks in granite or other igneous outcrops in shrubby desert grassland or saguaro upland.  Absent from SE Arizona.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  C. fendleri has slightly less rounded leaf segments, scales are thinner and not ciliate.  C. wootonii has larger, broader leaves and the scales do not completely cover the underside of the leaves.
Cheilanthes eatonii
Leaves grayish grean, bipinnate to tripinnate, long triangular, with dense white hair above, white to tan fuzz below, and conspicuous tan scales on the underside of the stem and leaflet veins.  Leaflet segments not as obviously beadlike as other Cheilanthes.  Small clusters of arching fronds, part shade on steep limestone slopes.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  C. lindheimeri has broader leaves, rougher above and more scaly below, and grows in rows or dense stands of erect fronds.  C. tomentosa is similar but leaflets are flat, never beadlike, and the underside of the stem and leaflet veins have tan or white hair, not distinct scales.
Cheilanthes feei
Triangular bright green leaves, bipinnate to tripinnate, beadlike leaflets, with scattered soft downy hairs that do not obscure the color or beaded shape of the leaflets.  Segments only 1-2mm.  Grows in small tufts in fractures in dry, north-facing limestone cliffs.  Widespread.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Smallest and most delicate-looking of the "beaded" Cheilanthes.
Cheilanthes fendleri
Light green tripinnate leaves with beadlike leaflets, green to brown stems.  Upper side of leaflets smooth, underside has overlapping triangular colorless to light brown scales that do not have dark stripes.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  C. wootonii has darker, more heavily fringed scales and leaflet segments are more rounded.  C. yavapensis is slightly downy or hairy on upper surface.  C. villosa has hair on the upper surface of the leaf, and its scales have brown spots or stripes.
Cheilanthes lendigera
Light green tripinnate leaves with beadlike leaflets, dark brown stems.  Upper side of leaflets slightly white-downy when young, later smooth.  Underside of each leaflet segment has brown hairs on the veins and a translucent "pocket" or pouch at the margin.   Range extends to Central America but in the U.S. this fern is restricted to the Mule and Huachuca Mts.  Rocky oak woods and shady areas beside granite or volcanic boulders.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  C. fendleri, C. wootonii, and C. yavapensis look very similar, but pouches on the underside of leaflet segments are unique and are visible even when the leaf is dry and curled.
Cheilanthes lindheimeri  Fairy Sword
Broad triangular grayish-green tripinnate leaves have a rough sandpapery feel.  Leaflets covered in coarse dense white hair on top, tan hair underneath with light brown scales on veins.  Sun to part shade, on granite or rhyolite or argillaceous rocks derived from them.  Often grows in rows or dense stands, especially on granite tors or beside boulders.  Also found under yucca, prickly pear, or small shrubs. 
One of the most common desert ferns, may be abundant in suitable habitat.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Identify by broad grayish leaflets and habit of growing in large stands.
Cheilanthes villosa  Hairy Lip Fern
Light green tripinnate triangular leaves with thin covering of  white down or fuzz on upper surface.  Lower surface thickly covered in overlapping white or tan scales with brown stripes.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  C. yavapensis has fewer and smaller scales on the underside, and scales do not have distinct stripes.  C. lindheimeri is grayer, and hair on upper surface is rougher and thicker. 
Cheilanthes wootonii
Triangular bright green tripinnate leaves, smooth and hairless above, with overlapping brown scales below.  Often in dense clusters or stands, sun or part shade beside granite boulders or among shrubs, lechugilla, etc.  Probably the most common of the "bead ferns" after C. lindheimeri.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Very similar to C. yavapensis but leaves are always smooth on uppper surface.  Leaves usually larger than other "bead ferns".  Leaflet segments more rounded and crowded than in C. fendleri.
Cheilanthes yavapensis
Hybrid between C. lindheimeri and C. covillei.  Leaves light green, triangular, tripinnate, distinctly silky or downy above, tan scaly below.  Leaflet segments circular, beadlike.  Part shade beside granite or volcanic rocks.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Very similar to C. wootonii but leaves slightly downy or hairy on upper surface.  C. feei is smaller and grows on limestone.
CHEILANTHES species with flat leaflets (segments not beadlike).
Cheilanthes alabamensis  Smooth Lip Fern
Triangular bright green leaves, tripinnate, smooth on both sides.  Pinnae may be alternate.  Leaflets triangular, long pointed.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  One of the few desert Cheilanthes that is devoid of hairs or scales on the leaves. 
C. wrightii is smaller, usually lighter green, with bluntly pointed leaflets.
Notholaena grayi is smaller and has a white waxy coating on the underside of the leaves. 
*Cheilanthes arizonica  Arizona Lip Fern
Triangular bright green leaves, tripinnate, smooth.  Segments long-oval, blunt-tipped.  Resembles a member of the Parsley Family (Umbelliferae) more than a fern, but note the grooved stalk and inrolled margins on underside.  Shady, wet places beside granite outcrops in a few localities near the Mexican border in southeastern AZ.
SIMILAR SPECIES: 
C. pringlei looks superficially similar but its leaves are not as completely dissected, and leaf segments are not oval. Its range is more western and its elevation is lower (Sonoran Desert upland rather than SE sky islands).
Cheilanthes bonariensis (=Notholaena aurea)  Golden Lip Fern
Leaves dark green, shining, narrow, long-pointed, pinnate-pinnatifid.  Leaflets also narrow and long-pointed, shining, covered in fine white down on the upper surface and dense yellow feltlike fuzz on the underside.
Full sun, among volcanic or granite outcrops and boulders.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Notholaena aschenborniana is smaller, grows on limestone, and has scales and farina (not yellow fuzz) on the underside of leaflets. 
Cheilanthes parryi
Leaves very white-fuzzy on both sides.  Leaflets bipinnate, segments round but not beaded.
Grows in cracks in any kind of rock outcrop.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  C. feei has beaded leaflets and leaves hairy on the back only.  C. lindheimeri is larger, with longer and broader leaflets that are tan underneath.
*Cheilanthes pringlei
Leaves bright green, tripinnate, triangular, smooth and hairless.  Dense stands in damp shade in gravel at base of igneous rock outcrops, Sonoran Desert upland, among saguaros and shrubs.  Uncommon.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  C. wrightii has broader, slightly pointed leaflets.
Cheilanthes tomentosa  Woolly Lip Fern
Leaves bright green to bluish green, tripinnate.  Leaflets thinly covered with short white downy hair on top, densely white to light brown fuzzy underneath.  Stems and leaf veins have white or tan hairs and long, tapered tan scales.  Grows in part shade among small sheltered sheltered outcrops, usually on steep slopes with good drainage.
Prefers limestone but grows on any rock type.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  C. villosa has leaflets scaly underneath, not downy.  C. eatonii has scales on stem and underside of leaf veins, and leaflet segments are more beadlike, not flat.
Cheilanthes wrightii
Leaves bright green, tripinnate.  Leaflets smooth on both sides, stem smooth, without scales or hairs.  Leaves often die back completely in the fall.  New growth appears in July with monsoon rain.  Grows in tufts or small stands in full sun on granite or other igneous rock.  Prefers flat areas with fine gravel and healthy soil crust.  When protected from trampling, this fern may form a lacy, delicate ground cover.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  C. alabamensis is larger, has scaly stems, and leaflets have longer points. C. pringlei has more slender, lacy-looking leaflets, and usually prefers shadier locations.
NOTHOLAENA
Leaves narrow triangular or star-shaped, dark green, bipinnate to pinnate-pinnatifid.  Leaflets have scattered white farina (mealy grains) on upper surface, dense white farina coating on lower surface.  Leaf margins are rolled under to partially cover sori.  Segments at tip of leaflets are stalkless and pinnatifid.
SIMILAR GENERA:  The white coating on BOTH leaf surfaces is unique to this genus. Argyrochosma has white on underside of leaves only, segments at leaflet tips are stalked, and leaflets are bluish green, not dark green.
NOTHOLAENA species with narrow triangular leaves, bipinnate or pinnate-pinnatifid.
Notholaena aschenborniana
Dark gray-green leaves, bipinnate or pinnate-pinnatifid, long triangular.  White star-shaped scales on upper surface of leaflets, brown fringed scales on lower surface and stem.  White farina present on both sides, but hidden by scales.  Full sun on limestone (Mississippian Escabrosa Fm), southeastern AZ.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Other Notholaena have no scales on leaflets.  Astrolepis are pinnate. 
Cheilanthes bonariensis has yellow fuzz on underside of leaflets and is not found on limestone.
C. tomentosa has tripinnate leaflets with white and brownish fuzz on leaflets, not scales.
Notholaena grayi
Leaves bright green to dark green, bipinnate to tripinnate, triangular.  Leaflets triangular.  Upper side spotted with white mealy grains. Underside has scattered dark brown hairs and scales on veins.  On granite or rhyolite.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  N. lemmonii has shorter asymmetrical leaflets that lack hairs or scales on the underside.
Cheilanthes tomentosa has fuzzy leaflets, lacks white farina.
*Notholaena lemmonii
Leaves dark green, narrow, bipinnate.  Leaflets triangular to rectangular, leaflets and segments quite variable in shape, even on a signle leaf.  Upper side of leaflets sparsely dotted with white mealy grains.  Underside densely mealy white to pale yellow with prominent smooth brown veins, with no hairs or scales. 
SIMILAR SPECIES:  N. grayi has longer leaflets and scattered hairs and/or scales on the veins on the underside of each leaflet.  Astrolepis windhamii is scaly on the underside of the leaflets.
"STAR" FERNS:  Three NOTHOLAENA and two other species with pseudopentagonal leaves.
Leaves appear to be divided into five leaflets, but this is an illusion.
Actually the leaf is just very short, with the lowest two pinnae as large as the rest of the leaf,
and the two basal pinnules enlarged.
Notholaena californica
Leaves star-shaped, dark green when mature, bright green when young, leathery, bipinnate to tripinnate, with long stems in tight clusters.  Dotted with white farina grains on upper surface, lower surface mealy white to light yellow.  Dry leaves light grayish brown, curl up with underside exposed.  In partially shaded cracks in granite or metamorphic rock outcrops; Middle Gila area, western AZ mountains, southern CA.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  N. neglecta has distinctly separate leaflet segments, grows on limestone, and its range is southeast of N. californicaN. standleyi has broader, more crowded leaflets that are less deeply divided.
Notholaena neglecta
Leaves star-shaped or triangular, dark green, with triangular leaflets that are divided into discrete tiny segments.  Dotted with white farina grains on upper surface, lower surface mealy white.  Dry leaves curl into crescent shapes (not handlike as in other ster ferns).  Partial shade on limestone outcrops, southeastern AZ mountains.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  N. standleyi and N. californica do not have leaves divided into tiny distinct segments, and are not limited to limestone.  The range of N. californica is north and west of  N. neglecta.
Notholaena standleyi  Star Fern
Leaves tripinnate, dark green, leathery, long-stemmed, in tight clusters.  Leaves obviously star-shaped, leaflets triangular and pointed.  Upper surface of new leaves dotted with white farina grains, older leaves smooth and shining.  Underside densely coated with pale yellow farina.  Dry leaves tan to pale brown, curl up with underside exposed.  Shade to part sun in sheltered cracks on limestone, granite, or volcanic outcrops. 
SIMILAR SPECIES:  The most "star-like" of our ferns.  Leaflets broader and more triangular than other star ferns.  Pentagramma triangularis is larger, with thinner, lighter green leaves and no farina grains on upper surface. 
Bommeria hispida  Copper Fern
Leaves are green underneath, without any coating.  Hairy on both sides.  Hairs are brown on mature leaves, white on younger ones.  Old leaves may turn reddish brown.  Dry leaves are yellowish or purplish brown and curl down with upper surface exposed.  Damp, shady areas in fractured granite or volcanic rock, beside boulders, or under shrubs, forming wandering lines of leaves from creeping rootstock.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  No other "star fern" in our area has hairy leaves.
Pentagramma triangularis  ssp. maxonii (= Pityrogramma triangularis) Goldback Fern
Leaves star-shaped or broadly triangular, smooth, light green, tripinnate with rounded leaflets.  Underside white or pale yellow. Dry leaves dark purplish brown, curl down with upper surface exposed.  Thin, bare leaves are the least adapted to desert conditions of any of our xerophytic ferns.  Damp shade sandy soil in cracks or under overhangs in canyon walls, especially if sheltered by shrubs.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Notholaena standleyi is darker green, more leathery, and has white farina grains on the upper surface.

Other Xerophytic Ferns (not found in Arizona)

Cheilanthes viscida  Sticky Lace Fern 
Leaves tripinnate, dark green, in tight clusters.  Leaflets have no hair or scales, but are sticky and/or shiny, and may be covered in dust.  Leaflet segments are tiny, rounded to slightly pointed but not domed or beadlike.  Sori are shiny black, clustered at the edges of the underside of leaflets.  Damp, shady crevices under boulders, restricted to southern California.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Sticky leaves are unique among U.S. xerophytic ferns.  The only other Cheilanthes in its range are C. wootoni and C. covillei ("beaded" leaflets, smooth above, scaly below), and C. parryi (leaves fuzzy).

Other Southern Arizona Ferns (NOT XEROPHYTES)
More common in humid climates.  Rare and local in southern Arizona's Sky Island mountains.

 
Family ASPLENIACEAE:  Spleenworts    Smooth, shining, hairless ferns of wet shady outcrops.
Southern Arizona's six species of Asplenium form one of the most interesting elements of U.S. fern flora.
A. trichomanes grows in the northern U.S., Canada, and Europe.  A. resiliens is found in the southern U.S.
A. palmeri is endemic to Mexico and reaches the northwest limit of its range in southern AZ.
Three (A. dalhousiae, A. exiguum, and A. monanthes) are Asian species found in only a few localities in the U.S.
Adiantum capillus-veneris  Venus Maidenhair Fern
Wiry black zigzag stems and irregularly lobed, toothed leaflets.  Leaves form cascades over rocks or streambanks. 
Grows worldwide in suitable habitat.  In our area, restricted to shady limestone springs and seeps with dripping water.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  No other fern has this combination of leaf shape, black zigzag stems, and cascading habit.
Asplenium resiliens
Largest southern AZ spleenwort.  Leaves pinnate, olive green, long and narrow.  Long triangular leaflets have a slight "ear" at the base and may be slightly toothed but are not lobed.  Several sori on the underside of each leaflet. Madrean evergreen woodland, 5000-7000 feet, on damp, shady limestone or rhyolite outcrops.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Leaflets of A. palmeri have lobes, lack "ears".  A. monanthes has single sorus on each leaflet. 
Asplenium trichomanes
Leaves pinnate, bright green, narrow.  Leaflets oval, circular, or triangular, only about .5 cm in diameter, with several round shallow lobes.  Several crescent-shaped sori on the underside of each leaflet, located along veins.  Crevices in vertical mossy outcrops, granitic or metamorphic outcrops, pine or pine/douglas fir woods at 8000 feet and above.
SIMILAR SPECIES:  Tiny round leaflets are distinctive.
Family BLECHNACEAE:  Chain Ferns 
Woodwardia fimbriata  Giant Chain Fern
Leaves bright green, pinnate-pinnatifid.  Largest fern in the U.S., but does not grow more than two or three feet tall in the southern Arizona mountains.  Shady wooded mountain canyons, near water.

BOOK REVIEW:
The Ferns and Lycophytes of Texas
By George M. Diggs, Jr. and Barney L. Lipscomb
Botanical Institute of Texas Press, Fort Worth, 2014.

Available from the Botanical Institute of Texas (BRIT):
http://www.brit.org/brit-press/books/texasferns

DISCLOSURE: Several photos from my online field guide to Arizona xerophytic ferns were published in this book.

Wide variations in climate and topography give Texas a unique population of native plants.
The ferns and their relatives are particularly diverse, and Texas has more species of native ferns than any other state. Some are found nowhere else in the U.S.
This book is a comprehensive guide to all 127 species of ferns and related plants that are native to Texas.
Lavishly illustrated with photos and drawings from many sources, it combines the characteristics of a field guide,
a technical botany manual, and an up-to-date summary of modern taxonomic, genetic, and biogeographic information.
It presents an enormous amount of information in a compact, carefully organized format that will appeal to beginning naturalists and professional botanists.
The introduction includes details on reproductive biology, taxonomy, and patterns of distribution in Texas, North America, and worldwide in relation to physiography, climate, and the fossil record.
The key to families is concise and readable. Other useful features include a list of Texas fern localities on public lands, a glossary, a phylogeny diagram, and an extensive reference list.
Each species is illustrated with several line drawings and color photos showing the plant as it appears in nature and all the essential details required for identification.
Each has a map showing the plant’s Texas distribution by county and its range in the U.S.
The descriptions are detailed but brief, and strike a useful balance between technical data and field observations.
For most species, the rootstock is not described or illustrated; this is a welcome departure from botanical tradition and supports the book’s emphasis on conservation.
Much of the information presented in this book has never been published in a popular, widely-accessible format, and the illustrations include many uncommon species that are rarely photographed.
The book incorporates the authors’ original observations as well as material from the Flora of North America, several earlier guidebooks, and many technical papers,
making it a comprehensive modern summary of published work on Texas ferns.
It is a beautiful, enduring, and important addition to the bookshelf of any North American naturalist.

Artwork HOME
e-mail
Photos, drawings, text, and webpage by Lorena Babcock Moore, 2007-2014.