Pellaea glabella

Smooth Cliff Brake

Smooth Cliff Brake, Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and Kitty Kohout
Smooth Cliff Brake
Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium
and Kitty Kohout

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


  • Pellaea, from the Greek, pellos (pellos), "dark-coloured, dusky"; a reference to the dark stem
  • glabella, from the Latin, "hairless, smooth"
  • Common name from from its texture and preferred habitat.
  • Other common names include Dwarf Cliffbrake, Pelléade glabre (Qué)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Polypodiophyta, the True Ferns
      • Class Filicopsida
        • Order Polypodiales
          • Family Pteridaceae
            • Genus Pellaea, the Cliff Brakes
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 17646
  • Also known as Pellaea atropurpurea var. bushii


  • An atypical fern of cliffsides, quite rare in the North Country but rather common in southeastern Minnesota.
  • Fronds blue-green, monomorphic, and evergreen; 20"-58", growing clustered on stem.
    • Petiole (leaf stalk) brown, lustrous, with rounded upper surface; occasionally shows prominent articulation lines near base.
    • Blade linear-oblong to ovate-lanceolate, ½"-3" wide, once to twice cut.
    • Rachis (axis) straight, brown, and nearly smooth with a rounded upper surface.
    • Pinnae (primary leaflets) somewhat ascending, usually with 3-7 lobes. Lobes oblong-lanceolate, ¼"-¾", leathery to herbaceous, smooth except for occasional hairlike scales on underside near midrib; leaflet edges on fertile segments curled under.
  • Rootstalk compact, ascending, stout, ¼"-½" in diameter; scales reddish brown.
    • Roots dark brown to black, thin, fibrous, and profuse.
  • Sori pale brown, lacking indusium.


  • Unlike any other fern found in Northern Minnesota. (And perhaps best identified with the aid of good binoculars or serious climbing gear.)
  • Field Marks
    • un-fernlike foliage
    • blue-green color
    • habitat on rock ledges and cliffs


  • Ontario to Vermont, south to Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia.
  • Collected only from St. Louis County in our area.


  • Calcareous cliffs and ledges, usually on limestone substratesTypical habitat, Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and Emmet J. Judziewicz






  • By spore and vegetatively by rhizome


  • By rhizome division


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Generally not available commercially



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Last Updated on 26 February, 2004