Common Fern and Fern-Ally Species of the Northwest Forest






Terminology | Pictorial

Botrychium virginianum
Virginia Grape Fern
"Rattlesnake Fern"

Ophioglossaceae (Adder's-Tongue Family)

Rattlesnake Fern Description

General - erect perennial from short, soft rhizomes and cluster of fleshy roots; stems single, 15 - 80 cm tall.

Leaves - single, stalkless blade borne near middle of stem, thin, broadly triangular, 20 - 50 cm long, 3 main lobes, 1 - 3 times pinnate, sterile; fertile leaf sing (see spore clusters, below).

Spore Clusters - many, spherical, yellow, stalkless, on spike-like, pinnately compound, fertile leaf, 2 - 15 cm long, with 3 - 20 cm long stalk from base of sterile leaf.


Moist woodlands, thickets, and meadows; widespread across southern boreal forest north and west to southwestern N.W.T. and northern British Columbia; circumpolar.


Moonwort (B. Lunaria) is a much smaller grape fern (usually 7 - 15 cm tall) that is scattered across boreal North America and around the world in open grassy sites, sometimes in thickets and open deciduous forest. Its single, fleshy, yellowish green leaf, with 2 - 5 pairs of fan- shaped 'leaflets' is distinctive. Native peoples used the roots of Virginia grape fern to make poultices or lotions for snakebite, bruises, cuts and sores. However, these plants are usually rare or uncommon and they should not be collected. Virginia grape fern is also called 'rattlesnake fern', presumably because the fertile spike emerging form the sterile leaf somewhat resembles the tail of a rattlesnake. The species name, virginianum, indicates that this species was first identified in Virginia. Many plants are named after Virginia, because many North American botanists began collecting there.

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