Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management

Next: PityrogrammaContentsPrevious: Dryopteris

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


Small ferns arising from stout nodular or slender much-branched rhizomes. Erect pinnate to quadripinnate fronds usually without hairs or scales; smooth or shiny straw-colored to dark brown leaf stalks with scales at the base only. At the ends of veinlets, sori form a marginal or rarely sub-marginal band. Leaf margin curled over sori to form an indusium or only slightly curled in older fronds of P. bridgesii. Although there is some question if this species should remain in this genus, it will be placed here until further study when a more accurate placement can be determined. This genus has about 70 species commonly found in temperate regions of the world. With 6 species and varieties in the Sierra it is one of the largest genera among our ferns.

All species in California occur in well drained, often dry situations. Mrs. Alice Tryon has noted that the British introduced a number of species in this genus to Kew as houseplants over 100 years ago, and that seven species were common in the nursery trade in the years that followed. A number of species grow well in cultivation with little special care other than rock substrata and good drainage. They can be maintained indoors as potted plants also.

KEY TO THE SPECIES Segments with sharp tips

Pinnae semi-circular, segments longer than the midrib of the pinnae P. brachyptera
Pinnae ovate-linear, segments shorter than the midrib of the pinnae
Fronds green, fewer than 20 segments per pinna P. mucronata var. californica
Fronds blue-gray or whitish, few to 40 segments per pinna, often with segments paired or in clusters of 3’s P. mucronata var. mucronata
Segments blunt or notched at apex
Fronds pinnately compound
Segments entire, flat or folded in half P. bridgesii
Segments deeply lobed, often mitten-shaped, margins rolled under P. breweri
Fronds bi- or tri-pinnately compound P. andronledaefolia

Fig. 27 COFFEE FERN (Pellaea andromedaefolia)
[click to enlarge]

Fig. 27 COFFEE FERN (Pellaea andromedaefolia) Upper: Plant in dry foothill area. The curling of the leaves give the illusion of “coffee berries” Lower: Underside of a few segments showing marginal sori.

Fig. 28 Right: SIERRA CLIFF BRAKE (Pellaea brachyptera)
[click to enlarge]

Fig. 28 Right: SIERRA CLIFF BRAKE (Pellaea brachyptera). One frond with its very short lateral branches. Leaf margins curl around sori.


Pellaea andromedaefolia (Kaulf.) Fee (Fig. 27)

Plants 10 to 18 inches high, fronds bi- to quadri-pinnate, several arising from a slender rhizome. Young leaf stalks yellowish, straw or red-brown. Segments to 1/4 to 1/2 inch long, oval to somewhat rounded with blunt or notched apex. Foliage on upper side whitish or dull green in spring, turning bronze-purple in the drier summer weather, pale yellow or green beneath. In older fronds, especially in dry conditions, segments appear somewhat narrower because of curled margins.

The curled segments and bronze color give the illusion of coffee berries, hence the common name, Coffee Fern. The common name Sheep Fern has been used in a few localities because fragmented stalks puncture the intestines and cause death of sheep which occasionally eat this fern.

Common in the foothill areas of the Sierra in dry rocky places from 1,000 to 3,500 feet elevation, and in the coastal regions from Lower California into Oregon. It has been observed in Yosemite near Arch Rock and is abundant in the foothills below Sequoia National Park.


Pellaea brachyptera (Moore) Baker (Fig. 28)

Plants 6 to 10 inches high with several slender fronds arising from each rhizome. Woody rhizome is covered with brown scales. Bi-pinnate fronds have 3 to 6 pairs of pinnules crowded on short pinnate branches.

In rocky, exposed places, this fern grows between 3,500 and 8,000 feet elevation in the northern part of the Sierra including Lassen Volcanic National Park, into Oregon and in Trinity County.

Fig. 29 BREWER’S CLIFF BRAKE (Pellaea breweri)
[click to enlarge]

Fig. 29 BREWER’S CLIFF BRAKE (Pellaea breweri) Upper: habitat of this delicate fern is at high elevations. Ferns are nearly prostrate when growing under rocks, erect in open places. Lower: Underside of two fertile fronds with lobed pinnae.


Pellaea breweri D. C. Eat. (Fig. 29)

Plants 5 to 9 inches high with fronds in clumps. Short rhizomes covered with long brown scales. Stalks red-brown, quite brittle with dark brown scales near the base. Pinnately compound fronds with bi-lobed pinnae, or lower pinnae irregularly tri-lobed. This species closely resembles P. bridgesii which has no lobes on the pinnae. This species is much more fragile.

Among or under granite rocks between 7,000 and 11,000 feet elevation in the Sierra Nevada, lush fronds lie nearly prostrate under rocks, but plants in open are shorter, erect, but still fragile.

Sometimes this species has been called the Sierra Cliff Brake. This fern was first collected by Professor W. H. Brewer in 1864 near Sonora Pass between 7,000 and 8,000 feet elevation. It is known from the vicinity

Fig. 30 BRIDGES’ CLIFF BRAKE (Pellaea bridgesii)
[click to enlarge]

Fig. 30 BRIDGES’ CLIFF BRAKE (Pellaea bridgesii). Upper: Growing in sandy soil and among granite rocks in dry places. Lower: Underside of frond showing scattered sub-marginal sporangia on all but lower pair of pinnae.

of East Lake, Kings Canyon National Park, Pear Lake in Sequoia National Park, from Mono Pass and in several mountains near Mt. Dana in Yosemite, and from Washington, Wyoming and Utah.


Pellaea bridgesii Hook. (Fig. 30)

Plants 4 to 8 inches high arising from a short rhizome which is covered with masses of brown scales. Clusters of pinnate fronds with lustrous brown stalks arise from each rhizome. Pinnae round to ovate, light green in color with a leathery texture. Sori form a submarginal band

Fig. 31 BIRD’S FOOT FERN (Pellaea mucronata var. mucronata)
[click to enlarge]

Fig. 31 BIRD’S FOOT FERN (Pellaea mucronata var. mucronata). Upper: Growing in cracks of rocks. Left: Detail of a short scaly rhizome and the bases of a few fronds. Right: Portion of a sterile frond. These are rarely encountered, usually appear after late spring rains.

which apparently at no time has a true curling of the leaf margin to protect it. These latter characters and additional features may eventually be a basis to place this species in another genus.

It may be found in cracks of granite rocks in dry exposed places 5,000 to 11,000 feet elevation from Tulare County, many localities in Yosemite, northward through the Sierra to Oregon and western Idaho. It may be seen near the animal trail a short way below Nevada Falls in Yosemite, along the main road in Forest of the Giants, Sequoia National Park, and along the Sonora Pass Road.


Pellaea mucronata var. mucronata (D. C. Eat.) Tryon (Fig. 31, 32)

P. ornithopus
P. mucronata

Plants 8 to 18 inches high, arising from a woody nodular branched rhizome. Young stalks of fronds chestnut to black, wiry and brittle. Bluish-gray evergreen fronds usually tri-pinnate, at least in mature fronds, bi-pinnate in younger ones. Pinnae, at least at bottom of fronds, often in clusters of threes resembling a bird’s foot. Pinnae linear or elliptical with a sharp-pointed apex.

Jepson says this fern is sometimes called the Tea Fern, Black Fern, and Poison Fern. Like the Coffee Fern, P. androredaefolia, the wiry stalks break into sharp pieces when eaten by sheep or goats, penetrate the intestines and cause death. According to Barrett and Gifford, the rhizomes which are sometimes 20 feet long were dug by Miwok Indians and used for brown coloring in their baskets. Also portions of this fern were steeped in hot water and the tea drunk to stop nosebleed or as a blood purifier.

This fern is common throughout the Coast Range and the Sierra in dry rocky places from 400 to 5,000 feet. It is found on the talus slopes in Yosemite near Arch Rock and extends southward into Lower California.


Pellaea mucronata var. californica (Lennon) Munz & Johnston (Fig. 33)

P. compacta
P. wrightiana var. compacta

Small fern, 4 to 8 inches high with several stalks arising from each rhizome. Young stalks dark brown to black. From 3 to 7 ovate pinnules on each branch of a bipinnate frond. Pinnules curl when drying.

A fern distinctive from Bird’s Foot Fern by having many fewer pinnules, never occurring in threes, and by having broader pinnules. This variety differs from the Sierra Cliff Brake by having longer lateral branches on which the pinnules are borne so that the segments are not so crowded.

Observed by the author only on the Avenue of the Giants in Sequoia National Park near Dorset Creek. Known only from a few localities in central and southern California.

Fig. 32 Above: BIRD’S FOOT FERN (Pellaea mucronata var. mucronata)
[click to enlarge]

Fig. 32 Above: BIRD’S FOOT FERN (Pellaea mucronata var. mucronata). Two fronds showing lower side with curled leaf margins. In specimen on right many segments occur in threes, and thus resemble a bird’s foot, the origin of its common name.

Fig. 33 DESERT CLIFF BRAKE (Pellaea mucronata var. californica)
[click to enlarge]

Fig. 33 Right: DESERT CLIFF BRAKE (Pellaea mucronata var. californica). Two fronds from one plant showing variation in number of pinnules and in width of pinnules. Fronds are somewhat immature.

Next: PityrogrammaContentsPrevious: Dryopteris

Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management