Woodsia scopulina

Rocky Mountain Woodsia

Rocky Mountain Woodsia, Photo courtesy Charles Webber and the California Academy of Sciences
Rocky Mountain Woodsia
Photo courtesy Charles Webber
and the California Academy of Sciences

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


  • Woodsia, for English botanist Joseph Woods (1776-1864).
  • scopulina, from the Greek, skopelos (skopelos), "peak, headland, promontory"
  • Common name from its primary range in the northern Rockies.
  • Other common names include Mountain Cliff Fern, Woodsie des Rochers (Qué)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Polypodiophyta, the True Ferns
      • Class Filicopsida
        • Order Polypodiales
          • Family Dryopteridaceae, the Wood Ferns
            • Genus Woodsia, the Cliff Ferns
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 17747
  • Subspecies
    • scopulina, from mountainous regions of western North America
    • appalachiana, from mountianous regions of the southeastern US
    • laurentiana, from the Great Lakes region


  • A small fern of rocky places, rare in our area.
  • Fronds 3½"-14"
    • Petiole (leaf stalk) usually reddish brown to dark purplewhen mature, not articulated above base, relatively brittle and easily shattered.
    • Blade lanceolate to linear-lanceolate
    • Rachis (axis) usually with abundant hairs.
    • Pinnae (primary leaflets) lanceolate-deltate to ovate, longer than wide, abruptly tapered to a rounded or broadly acute tip; largest pinnae with 5-14 pairs of pinnules; both surfaces glandular and sparsely hairy, with flattened hairs concentrated along midribs.
    • Pinnules (secondary leaflets) toothed, often shallowly lobed; margins thin, slightly glandular and occasionally ciliate with isolated hairs, lacking translucent projections. Vein tips may be slightly enlarged, barely visible on upper surface.
  • Rookstalk compact, erect to ascending, with few to many persistent petiole bases of unequal lengths; scales uniformly brown or bicolored with dark central stripe and pale brown margins, ovate to narrowly lanceolate.
  • Shows substantial variation in leaf size, shape, and dissection, and in the abundance of hairs on the pinnae.


  • Identifiable as Woodsia by
    • relatively small size for our area
    • affinity for rocky habitats
    • twice-cut fronds
  • Distinguished from
    • Smooth Woodsia (Woodsia glabella) by its hairs and scales
    • Alpine Woodsia (Woodsia alpina) and Rusty Woodsia (Woodsia ilvensis), by its unarticulated leaf stalk (petiole) and toothed leaf edges.
    • Oregon Woodsia (Woodsia oregana ) by its hairs which are concentrated along the midrib on both surfaces, and by its mature leafstalks, which are typically a reddish brown to dark purple in color and relatively brittle, shattering easily.
  • Field Marks
    • hairs and scales on fronds and leafstalks
    • absence of stem segmentation or articulation
    • color of mature leaf stalk


  • Primary range in the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest.
  • Also found north of Lakes Superior and Huron in Ontario and NE Minnesota.


  • Cliffs and rocky slopes; on a variety of substrates including both granite and limestone






  • By spore


  • By spore; difficult.


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



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Last Updated on 26 February, 2004