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Ferns of the Sierra (1960) by Robert J. Rodin


This family with two principal genera is based on Ophioglossum, a genus not represented in the Sierra. Members of this family usually produce one leaf per year, and a special stalk bearing large spherical sporangia are located laterally.


Grape Fern Genus

Perennial plants arising from a fleshy or fibrous rootstock, usually bearing one leaf per year which dies down during the winter. Leaves simple or compound, dichotomously veined, never net-veined. Spores borne on a special stalk, sometimes arising at the leaf base, at other times from the leaf stalk, the clustered sporangia appearing very much like small bunches of green grapes.

This genus, although appearing quite specialized because sporangia form on a stalk and not on the lower surface of the leaf, as in most ferns, is considered our most primitive genus of ferns. Most species of this genus are from temperate parts of the world. Within any one of our species there is great variation of leaf forms.


Plants 2 to 5 inches high: leaves simple to compound B. simplex
Plants 12 to 18 inches high; leaves compound B. multifidum var. coulteri


Botrychium simplex E. Hitchc. (Fig. 8)

Slender plants 2 to 5 inches high; leaves variable from simple, lobed, to pinnate, or with divisions from the base with pinnate subdivisions. Leaf segments may be obovate, obtuse, rounded or with blunt teeth or lobes. Sporangia borne on a stalk arising at base of the leaf, this stalk usually taller than the leaves, a simple or compound spike; the lateral small green sporangia clustered near the apex. Spores are yellow.

This fern has also been known as the Simple Grape Fern. In the Sierra Nevada distributed from Tulare to Tuolumne counties at higher elevations. It is also known from Siskiyou County, north to Wyoming and British Columbia, east to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New Foundland, and in Europe and Asia. Although herbarium specimens show it to be widespread, this small fern

Fig. 8 LITTLE GRAPE FERN (Botrychium simplex)
[click to enlarge]

Fig. 8 LITTLE GRAPE FERN (Botrychium simplex). Upper: Habitat among sedges and grasses in an alpine meadow about 10,500 feet elevation. Lower: Details of two whole plants.

is often overlooked. As found in our higher open meadows, it is no taller than the short grasses and sedges around it. The author has searched in many meadows in Yosemite for this particular fern. On one occasion in Miguel meadows, when the author was accompanied by Dr. Herbert L. Mason, who had collected this species at that place 20 years before, none could be found. Botrychium simplex is now apparently extinct in that area. A contributing factor may be the corral for government horses located there at present. Credit must be given to my faithful wife who found the specimens shown in the accompanying illustrations while we were on a pack trip to the Mono Pass area, near Kuna Creek, at about 10,500 feet elevation. It was quite plentiful in that meadow.


Botrychium multifidum var. coulteri (Underw.) Broun (Fig. 9)

B. silaifolium as given by Jepson.

Plants 12 to 18 inches high, with deep rootstock. Commonly one leathery leaf with stalk mostly underground; leaf compound, ultimate segments ovate or obliquely oval, rounded or with blunt teeth. Two leaves or dying leaf from previous year sometimes present. Stalk bearing sporangia pinnately divided several times with large green sporangia like grapes.

Usually found in open places in forests in humus or sandy soil, in mountains from 3,000 to 10,000 feet elevation. Known throughout western North America to Alaska, in Nova Scotia and in Europe. Because of the large size, this is the Grape Fern most frequently observed. It may be found in King’s River Canyon; Lake Hamilton area in Sequoia National Park; above Mirror Lake, in Little Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite.

Fig. 9 LEATHERY GRAPE FERN (Botrychium multifidum var. coulteri)
[click to enlarge]

Fig. 9 LEATHERY GRAPE FERN (Botrychium multifidum var. coulteri). From an open place in the forest in sandy soil, each plant having one compound leaf and a special stalk bearing clusters of sporangia. Plant is about 15 inches high.

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