Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.

Volume 13, Number 3 - February 1967

Ferns in Kansas



KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - Ferns in Kansas

THE COVER PICTURE of a Maidenhair Fern was taken in June, about three miles south of Homewood, in Franklin County. Portions of leaves of a Christmas Fern may be seen near the bottom of the picture.

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Volume 13, Number 3 - February 1967

Ferns in Kansas

by Ralph Brooks Junior, Shawnee Mission North High School
Shawnee Mission, Kansas

Published by The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia

Prepared and Issued by The Department of Biology, with the cooperation of the Division of Education

Editor: John Breukelman, Departrnent of Biology

Editorial Committee: Ina M. Borman, Robert F. Clarke, Gilbert A. Leisman, David F. Parmelee, Carl W. Prophet

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to Kansas teachers, school board members and administrators, librarians, conservationists, youth leaders, and other adults interested in nature education. Back numbers are sent free as long as the supply lasts, except Vol. 5, No.3, Poisonous Snakes of Kansas. Copies of this issue may be obtained for 25 cents each postpaid. Send orders to The Kansas School Naturalist, Department of Biology, Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas.

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April of each year by The Kansas State Teachers College, 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas. Second-class postage paid at Emporia, Kansas.


This is the first issue of The Kansas School Naturalist to be written entirely by a high school student. The author, 17, is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Harold J. Brooks, of Shawnee Mission, Kansas. He took his high school biology in Shawnee Mission High School in 1965-66, with Mr. Richard Dawson as his teacher. The author mode all the drawings and took all the photographs. The distribution mops are based on his own collection and on specimens in the herbarium of the University of Kansas.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wish to acknowledge valuable assistance, in the preparation of the manuscript and in various other ways, given by Mr. Steve Stephens, Department of Botany, University of Kansas and Dr. Ronald L. McGregor, Department of Botany, University of Kansas.

Ferns in Kansas

by Ralph Brooks Junior, Shawnee Mission North High School
Shawnee Mission, Kansas

Ferns vary greatly in size and shape but most of them may be recognized by their deeply cut, feathery leaves some of which bear spores; ferns produce no seeds. Although many plants may look like ferns and some are closely related to them, in this issue of The Kansas School Naturalist only the members of the family Polypodiaceae are considered to be true ferns, although one member of another family (the Ophioglossaceae, or succulent ferns) is included. This is the Rattlesnake Fern, Botrychium, included because it is so common in parts of Kansas. Included in this paper are 15 species, which belong to the 11 genera shown on page 7, plus the Rattlesnake Fern, Botrychium.

Ferns are among the oldest of the land plants, having originated in the Paleozoic Era, which began about 350 million years ago. They were so abundant in the Carboniferous period that they contributed to our present coal supply. Today there are more than 7,000 species of ferns known to man. A checklist of Kansas species is found on page 15.

Ferns can be found almost anywhere in the world, but the largest variety is found in the temperate climates of the world. Some ferns are found in the cool moist ground of the shaded forest while others are found in the open sunlight on dry ground or rocks.

In Kansas the greatest number of ferns are found in the eastern third of the state. Some areas have several types of ferns in abundance. One such area is "Fern Valley," a wooded sandrock creek ravine, having many rocky ledges and crevices where a variety of ferns can be found, located two miles northwest of Yates Center in Woodson County. The Sensitive Fern, Onoclea, can be found growing along the edges of the creek where the bank is rocky and wet. Higher up on some of the ledges and larger boulders of the ravine one can find the Spleenwort, Asplenium, and Woodsia. The Woodfern, Dryopteris, can be found clinging to the sides of the steep rock banks of the creek.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - Asplenium
Asplenium growing on a shaded rock


In the northeast section of the state are the Missouri River bluffs. Here there are steep bluffs overlooking the river that are interlaced with many small wooded, rocky ravines and valleys. By walking along the bluffs one can often find the Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum. In the creek valleys and ravines Woodsia and Bladder Ferns, Cystopteris, are the most common. An observant person might find Asplenium and the Cliffbrakes, Pellaea.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - pellaea
Pellaea growing on bare rock


Wooded hills and rocky slopes above creek beds north of Frankfort in Marshall County provide excellent habitats for ferns. Woodsia and Cystopteris may be seen growing side by side on the moss covered rocks in and along the creek bed. Hidden in the cool shade of an undercut ledge one may see Pellaea wedged into a crevice of the ledge.

"Rock City," near Minneapolis in Ottawa County, is a group of large rock formations protruding from the ground in the middle of a prairie. Along the bottom edges of the rocks and in their crevices the Lipferns, Cheilanthes and Pellaea can be found growing. Southwest of "Rock City" are the sandrock bluffs of the Kanopolis Dam area in Ellsworth County. Along the dry, rocky creek beds and bluffs one can find Cheilanthes and Pellaea growing in shaded places.

The wooded ravines around Shoal Creek, south of Galena in Cherokee County, provide plenty of shade and moisture for ferns. The Christmas Fern, Polystichum, can be found on the wooded slopes, together with Woodsia and Asplenium, which are also sometimes found growing in rocky areas along with Pellaea or Cheilanthes. The Walking Fern, Camptosorus, and the Cloak Fern, Notholaena, are often found in mossy spots along the creeks of this area.

The Blue River Valley south of Stanley in Johnson County is the home of many ferns. High rocky bluffs, small rocky stream ravines, and wooded hillsides can all be found here. On a short trip up a stream ravine one can quickly find three or four types of ferns; with more extensive searching as many as eight or even ten different ferns can be found. The most commonly found ferns are Woodsia, Cystopteris, Pellaea and Notholaena.

The ferns have some economic value. Florists sell thousands of them for holiday decorations each year. Other ferns, where abundant, are used as food for man and animal. They are also used as house plants and as decorative yard plants.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - dryopteris

Dryopteris growing in a rock crevice


During warm weather spores are produced in variously shaped spore cases known as sori (singular: sorus). These are sometimes called fruiitdots, but this a misleading name, because fruits are seed containing structures. They are on the undersides of fertile leaves. When mature the spores are released and carried away by the wind. The arrangements of the sori on the fertile leaves are shown on page 7.

Of the thousands of spores released only a few land on moist shaded ground suitable for growth. Each spore develops into a thin, green structure about a quarter inch long, the prothallium. It is on the prothallium that the sperms and eggs are produced and fertilization takes place. The fertilized egg develops into a plant, with roots, stems, and leaves. The coiled young leaf, called a fiddlehead, uncoils as the leaf matures.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - fiddleheadsFiddleheads of Dryopteris


KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - sheltered soriSori sheltered by the curled leaflet margin of Pellaea


KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - sori of woodsia
Sori of Woodsia


Fernald, Merritt. 1950, Gray’s Manual of Botany. 8th ed. American Book Company.

Cobb, Bogthton. 1956. Guide to the Ferns. Houghton, Mifflin Company, Boston. (One of the Peterson Field Guide Series)

Wherry, Edgar T. 1961. Fern Guide. Doubleday & Company, Inc.     

Tryon, Jr., Rolla M. 1954. Ferns and Fern Allies of Minnesota. Jones Press, Inc.

Tryon, Fassett, Dunlop, and Diemer. 1953. Ferns and Fern Allies of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - fern species 

The 14 species of ferns described on pages 8 to 14 belong to the 11 genera whose fertile leaves and arrangements of sori are shown above.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - marginal woodfern

Dryopteris marginalis

The thick, leathery, evergreen fronds of this fern grow as long as 40 cm. They have an ovate shape with a broad base and sharply tapered tip. The light green leaflets are long and lance-shaped with each subleaflet blunt tipped with a slightly toothed edge.

Brown scales cover the surface of the leaf stalk which has a swollen base. The stout, creeping rhizome is thickly covered with brown scales and numerous shallow, spreading roots grow from its underside.

The large horseshoe-shopped sori are found along the margins of the leaflets and are usually ripe from July to October.

The Marginal Woodfern is found on wooded rocky slopes or in ravines where water is plentiful.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - ebony spleenwort 

Asplenium platyneuron

This is the best known of the Spleenworts. The dark green, narrow, evergreen leaves may be 35 cm. high and are tapered at the top and bottom. The narrow, oblong leaflets are alternate on the smooth, shiny, dark purple leaf stalk.

The thick, dark rhizome has few scales and has numerous thin, wiry roots growing from it.

The sori are short and straight, usually a dark brown color and are ripe from May to September.

The Ebony Spleenwort is found growing in moist, shaded sail or in the rock crevices of stream banks or ravines.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - black-stemmed spleenwort

Asplenium resiliens

This fern is often mistaken for Ebony Spleenwort because the fronds are narrow and tapered at the top and bottom. The tough evergreen fronds have on overall height of about 25 cm. Toothed edges, blunt tips, a lobed base and a dark, flat green color are all characteristics of the leaflets. The leaflets are arranged opposite each other on the shiny black leaf stalk.

The short rhizome has a few black scales on it and has many fine, wiry roots growing from it.

The oblong sori are nearer the leaf margin than to the main vein and are usually light brown. They are ripe from May to September.

This fern is often found growing with Ebony Spleenwort in shaded rocky ravines or on rocky hillsides.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - walking fern

Camptosorus rhizophyllus

The frond of the Walking Fern is about 3 cm. broad at the base and gradually tapers to a length of about 30 cm. The thick evergreen leaf has the ability to start new plants if the tip touches the ground. In this manner colonies of Walking Fern are formed.

The leaf stalk is short, flat, scaly at the base and about the same color as the leaf. The short, slender rhizome has only a few scales on its dark brown surface with numerous fine roots growing from it.

The sori are scattered on the underside of the leaves in no particular pattern but are usually long and narrow in shape.

The Walking Fern is found on shaded cliffs or moss covered rocks.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - sensitive fernSENSITIVE FERN
Onoclea sensibilis

The Sensitive Fern may grow as tall as 60 cm. broad fronds almost triangular. The leaflets are widely spaced, long, and tapered to a rounded tip. The fronds wither with the first frost.

The leaf stalk a light tan or yellow compared to the grass green frond. There are many black, wiry roots attached to the extensive, creeping rhizome.

The spore-bearing leaf is merely a leaf with a cluster of spore cases attached to small branches at the end of the stalk The spores are ripe from June to October but after the sterile frond has died the fertile frond will still remain above the ground.
This fern is found in wet ravines shaded from the sunlight.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vpl 13, No 3 - Christmas fern

Polystichum acrostichoides

The hardy, evergreen, lance-shaped leaves of the Christmas Fern may up to 40 cm. long and 10 cm. broad. The leaflets are alternate on the leaf stalk. Each leaflet is lobed on the upper edge and toothed all around.

The leaf stalk is covered with many thick brown and is grooved the upper side. The scaly, dark brown rhizome has many broken-off leaf stalks on ii, and many short,  thick roots growing from it.

The sori are found on the outer end of the leaf. The leaflets with sori are noticeably smaller than the lower leaflets. The sori are in two rows, one either side of the main leaflet vein and are ripe from June to October.

The Christmas is usually numerous wherever it grows, which is typically on a shaded, rocky slope that receives plenty of moisture.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - purple-stemmed cliffbrake

Pellaea atropurpurea

This common fern with its dull blue-green frond s grows up to 30 cm. tall. The lance-shaped to linear leaflets are stemmed. The lower leaflets are often divided into three or four subleaflets which also are lance-shaped and mostly opposite on the stalk.

The stiff, wiry, deep purple leaf stalk is covered with tiny brown hairs. The rhizome is covered by many brown hairs. From the roundish rhizome come many black, thin fibrous roots.

The leaflet margins curl in around the spore cases to protect the spores. The spore cases are light brown and the spores are ripe from June 10 September.

Dry limestone rocks or exposed cliffs are the usual habitat of this fern.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - slender cliffbrake

Pellaea glabella

The Slender Cliffbrake is much like the Purple-Stemmed Cliffbrake. The blue-gray, evergreen fronds are usually about 20 cm. high. The lance-shaped leaflets on the lower section of the stalk are sometimes branched three to five times.

The dull brown leaf stalk lacks hairs or scale s. The short rhizome is covered with brown hairs and has many wiry roots growing from it.

The spore cases, found around the edge on the underside of the leaflet, are ripe from June to September.

The Slender Cliffbrake is often found growing with Purple-Stemmed Cliffbrake on dry cliffs of limestone rock.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - maidenhair fern

Adiantum pedatum

The flat semi-circular fronds of the Maidenhair Fern reach a height of about 60 cm. (centimeter) and a width of 25 cm. The upper part of the stalk is branched five or six times and each branch is considered to be a leaflet. On each leaflet are small fan-shaped, toothed subleaflets. The delicate fronds are not evergreen.

The leaf stalk is shining dark brown or red brown without scales or hairs on its surface. The creeping rhizome (rootstock) has some scales on it, and often has old remains of leaf stalks attached to it. The slender roots are short and dark colored.

The sori of the Maidenhair Fern are found along the toothed edge on the underside of the subleaflets. These are ripe from midsummer on into the fall.

This beautiful fern is found in the rich shaded soil of the woods or along streams.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - blunt-lobed woodsia

Woodsia obtusa

The fronds, growing up to 40 cm. tall, are semi-tapered at the base. The leaflets are almost opposite on the axis and the subleaflets are stem less with rounded tips. The sterile fronds are light green and may be evergreen. The brittle, straw colored leaf stalk has scales on its surface.

The short, dark rhizome has some scales and many broken off leaf stalks on it. Numerous hair-like roots are attached to its base.

The pale brown-sori are in rows on either side of the main vein on the underside of the subleaflets. They appear as flat, round dots and are ripe from May to October.

This fern is usually found in shaded areas, often among rocks. It is one of the most common ferns found in Kansas.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - cloak fern

Notholaena dealbata

This common evergreen fern grows from 3 to 10 cm. high. The triangular-ovate shaped fronds are a blue-green with leaflets of the same shape. Oval subleaflets about 2 mm. (millimeter) long and white powdery beneath are attached to the multi-branched leaflets.

The smooth brown leaf stalk rises from a short, dark rhizome which has some scales on it. The numerous black roots are long and wiry.

The spore cases are found around the margin of the subleaflet on its underside and are covered by a white powder. They are ripe from the mid-summer until the late fall.

This rock-loving fern grows in the crevices of shaded rocks.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - hairy lipfern

Cheilanthes lanosa

The bluish-green, evergreen fronds are generally 20 cm. high and oblong or lance-shaped. The surface of the frond is sparsely covered with hairs above but is thickly covered with hairs below. The subleaflets are a long, narrow, oval shape.

The short hairy leaf stalk is dark brown. The short rhizome is covered with pale brown scales. The thin, black, shallow roots are not matted.

The dark brown sori are found under the curled under edge of the subleaflet and are ripe from June to September.

This fern is found in cracks or exposed rocks in areas that get plenty of moisture.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - slender lipfernSLENDER LIPFERN
Cheilenthes feei

This is the smallest of the lipferns. The fronds are 2 to 12 cm. long, usually about three times as long as broad, with many closely spaced, round leaflets. The light green upper surface is thinly covered with hairs but the rusty brown underside is thickly matted. The Slender lipfern can be found any time of the year because its fronds are evergreen. The dark purple leaf stalk is usually hairy but often loses it shairs with age. The thick, short rhizome is covered by rusty colored scales. The numerous roots are thin and wiry.

The crowded sori are found near the edges on the underside of the leaflets and are ripe from June to September.

This small rock-loving fern grows in the open on dry rocks or cliffs of limestone or sandstone.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - bladder ferns


Two species of Cystopteris are found in Kansas, Cystopteris protrusa and Cystopteris tennesseensis. The genus is a difficult one in which to determine the different characteristics of the species. Because of this, any the genus characteristics are described here.

The Bladder Ferns have delicate, broad, lance-shaped fronds that grown up to 30 cm. long. The most distinguishing features of the fronds are the sharply pointed tips of the subleaflets. The fronds wither with the first frost. Long, smooth leaf stalks attached to a creeping rhizome are also typical of the Bladder Ferns.

Dome-shaped sori are found scattered on the underside of the frond and are ripe in the early summer. The se ferns are found in rich wooded areas, and often around rocky areas.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - rattlesnake fern

Botrychium virginianum

The Rattlesnake Fern is a member of the family of succulent ferns, closely related to the true ferns. Since it is often found in the state, it is included in this issue of The Kansas School Naturalist.

The delicate, broad triangular-shaped fronds grow about 30 cm. tall. The leaflets are distinctly lacy-cut with semi-blunt tips. The fronds are not evergreen and are found growing in singles, not in clusters.

The smooth, fleshy leaf stalk is a light yellow color.

The spores are found on a fertile stalk, called a sporophyll, that extends above the sterile frond. The sporophyll has bright yellow spore cases attached to tiny branches at the top of the sporophyll. The spores are ripe in the spring and early summer.

The Rattlesnake Fern grows in wet areas or moist shaded woodlands.

KSN - Vol 13, No 3 - map


Dryopteris marginalis - Marginal Woodfern

Thelypteris hexagonoptera - Broad Beech Fern

Thelypteris palustris - Marsh Fern

Asplenium platyneuron - Ebony Spleenwort

Asplenium resiliens - Black Stemmed Spleenwort

Asplenium trichomanes - Maidenhair Spleenwort

Camptosorus rhizophyllus - Walking Fern

Onoclea sensibilis - Sensitive Fern

Polystichum acrostichoides - Christmas Fern

Polypodium polypodioides - Resurrection Fern

Pteridium aquilinum - Bracken

Pellaea atropurpurea - Purple-Stemmed Cliffbrake

Pellaea glabella - Slender Cliffbrake

Adiantum pedatum - Maidenhair Fern

Woodsia obtusa - Blunt-Lobed Woodsia

Nothalaena dealbata - Cloak Fern

Cheilanthes lanosa - Hairy Lipfern

Cheilanthes Feei - Slender Lipfern

Cheilanthes alabamensis - Smooth Lipfern

Cystopteris protrusa - Spreading Bladder Fern

Cystopteris tennesseensis -

Osmunda regalis - Royal Fern

Azolla mexicana - Water Fern

Marsilea mucronata - Water Clover

Marsilea quadrilolia - Water Shamrock

Ophioglossum Engelmanni - Limestone Adder's-Tongue

Botrychium dissectum - Cut-Leaved Grape Fern

Botrychium virginianum - Rattlesnake Fern

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