Botrychium lunaria


Moonwort, Photo Courtesy USDA Plants Database
Photo Courtesy USDA Plants Database

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Botyrichium, from the Greek botrus (botrys), "grape"; the Grape Ferns
  • lunaria, from the Latin luna, "moon "
  • Common Name, from the moon shaped leaflets
  • Other common names include Botryche Lunaire (Qué), Lunaire, Langue de cerf (Fr), Marinøkkel (Nor), Ketonoidanlukko (Fin), Låsbräken, Låsgräs, Månlåsbräken, Vanlig Låsbräken (Swe), Almindelig Månerude (Dan), Tungljurt (Is), Echte Mondraute (Ger), Lus nam Mìos (Gaelic), Himehanawarabi (Jpn)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Polypodiophyta, the True Ferns
      • Class Filicopsida
        • Order Ophioglossales
          • Family Ophioglossaceae, the Adder's Tongue or Succulent Ferns
            • Genus Botrychium, the Grape Ferns
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 17181
  • Twelve species of Grape Fern (Botrychium spp.) occur in Canoe Country, all but Rattlesnake Fern (Botrychium virginianum) being rare or extremely rare. These are woodland jewels, rarely seen.


  • An exceedingly rare little succulent fern, held to be more commonly found in fable and lore than in the wild. Usually less than 6" tall.
  • Sterile Frond a single leaf, to 5", subdivided into four to six pair, sometimes more, of half moon or fan shaped leaflets, closely spaced or overlapping; smooth edged and commonly concave. Said to turn to minimize sun exposure. Leaf appears in spring, dying in latter half of summer. Leaf stalk under 1/4" or nonexistent.
  • Fertile frond slightly taller, rising from base and arching over the single compound leaf; large spores in pendant clusters at tip. Spores borne May/June.
  • Stem only about 2" long, hollow and fleshy.
  • Rootstalk upright; roots few, short, horizontally spreading.


  • Identifiable as a Moonwort by its fan-shaped leaflets.
  • Distinguished from other North Woods Moonworts by its broad and overlapping leaflets.
  • Field Marks
    • Diminutive size
    • Succulent stem
    • Upright growth habit
    • Single leaf with "half moon" leaflets


  • Greenland to Alaska; south to New York, Minnesota, and Arizona. Also, South America, Eurasia, New Zealand, and Australia.
  • In Minnesota, Lake and Cook counties on the North Shore, Lake of the Woods, and deciduous woods of Cass, Clearwater, and Norman counties.
  • Moonwort is listed as threatened in Minnesota.


  • Mossy talus, ledges and rocky hillsides.
  • Open fields, occasionally forests in southern occurrences




  • Considered to be a plant with magical powers, gathered by moonlight and used by necromancers in their incantations to raise the dead.



  • Reproduces by spores


  • By spores (difficult)


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 2 (average minimum annual temperature -50ºF)
  • Generally not suitable for the home garden.
  • Not available commercially and too rare to be collected from the wild.



Valley Internet Company
Return to Home Page
Send Feedback to Webmaster

Last Updated on 26 February, 2004