Cryptogramma stelleri

Slender Cliff Brake

Slender Cliff Brake, Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and Tim Kessenich
Slender Cliff Brake
Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium
and Tim Kessenich

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


  • Cryptogramma, from the Greek, kruptos (cryptos), "hidden", and gramma (gramma), "line"; the hidden line being the row of fruitdots hidden by the overlapping leaflets.
  • stelleri, after 18th Century naturalist George Steller, who accompanied the Bering expedition of 1741 and lent his name to several northwestern species, including Steller's Jay and Steller's Sea Lion.
  • Common name from its delicate form and preferred habitat
  • Other common names include Slender Rock Brake, Fragile Rock Brake, Steller's Rock Brake, cryptogramme de steller (Qué)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Polypodiophyta, the True Ferns
      • Class Filicopsida
        • Order Polypodiales
          • Family Pteridaceae
            • Genus Cryptogramma, the Rock Brakes
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 17462
  • Also known as Pteris stelleri


  • A tiny, fragile, and rarely seen fern.
  • Fronds scattered along stems, ephemeral (dying by late summer), soon shed
    • Sterile Fronds ovate, low arching, and fragile; 1"-6"
      • Pinnae (primary leaflets) ovate, with broadly rounded form and crinkled edges. Not particularly fern-like.
      • Pinnules (secondary leaflets) fan-shaped and shallowly lobed, with short stems and toothed edges; delicate and almost translucent; often crowded together and overlapping.
    • Fertile Fronds erect, lanceolate, and spreading; 2"-8"
      • Petiole longer than blade, dark brown below becoming greenish above, smooth and only slightly furrowed.
      • Blade broadly lanceolate to ovate-lanceolate, twice-cut, herbaceous to membranous, thin.
      • Pinnae horizontal to ascending, lanceolate to linear, 8-25mm × 2-4mm;
      • Pinnules narrow, lance-shaped, and pointed, with distinct stems; edges curled under, forming continuous false indusia and often covering entire underside of subleaflet
    • Rootstalk creeping with limited branching; slender (1mm-1.5mm in diameter), succulent, and brittle; scales pale brown.
      • Roots few, fine, shallow, and spreading


  • Unmistakeable during its short season
  • Field Marks
    • small size
    • distinctively different fertile and sterile fronds


  • Central Alaska, south through the Yukon and British Columbia to NE Washington and NW Montana; in the east, from Ontario to Newfoundland, south to Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Isolated populations in Wyoming and Colorado mountains.
  • Also the Russian Far East, China, Japan, and Taiwan.
  • Kown only from Lake County in our area, but may simply be overlooked.


  • Cool, moist, sheltered calcareous cliff crevices and rock ledges, typically in coniferous forest or other boreal habitats.






  • By spore and vegetatively by rhizome


  • By spore; difficult


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 2 (average minimum annual temperature -50ºF)
  • Not generally cultivated



Valley Internet Company
Return to Home Page
Send Feedback to Webmaster

Last Updated on 26 February, 2004