Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Bulblet Bladder Fern - Cystopteris bulbifera   (L.) Bernhardi
Members of Cystopteridaceae:
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Section 2 » Order Polypodiales » Family Cystopteridaceae
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Author(L.) Bernhardi
DistributionStrictly in the Mountains, with most records from the southern half; collections from seven counties and observations from two others.

This is a widespread Northern species, ranging from eastern Canada south to western NC, central AL, and AZ.
AbundanceThough fairly common in the VA Mountains, in NC it is a scarce species, generally rare in the Mountains, typically with just one or two collection sites from any given county. Though the NCNHP has it as a Watch List species, it probably can be upgraded to the Significantly Rare list.
HabitatThis is a requisite rock species, being quite restricted in NC to moist, shaded calcareous rocks, including very rocky (talus) slopes. Thus, it does not necessarily grow from cracks in vertical rock faces as do many fern species, but it may grow on shaded, sloping soil, as long at it is moist and rocky.
PhenologyFruits from May to August.
IdentificationThis is one of the longest and narrowest (narrowly triangular shape) of the rock-inhabiting ferns in NC. The stipe is only about 6 inches long, much shorter than the blade, which is often 2 feet long and at times over 3 feet long, but barely 3-4 inches wide at the base. The blade is bipinnate-pinnatifid, and thus is quite finely cut and lacy-looking, with 20-40 pairs of pinnae. The lowest are opposite and narrowly triangular in shape, whereas the upper are very short, as the blade gradually tapers to a narrow apex. The sori are in cups (indusia) on the undersides of the pinnules, along the veins, and rounded in shape. This species has an odd habit of producing some bulblets (small pale green, globular masses) along the rachis and the top sides of some pinnae. If these bulblets are visible, it easily identifies the species; if not visible, the very long and narrowly triangular blade, growing on or next to calcareous rocks, should be sufficient for identification.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Bulblet Fern
State RankS1S2
Global RankG5
State StatusW7
US Status
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