Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Rattlesnake Fern - Botrypus virginianus   (L.) Michaux
Members of Ophioglossaceae:
Only member of Botrypus in NC.
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Section 2 » Family Ophioglossaceae
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Author(L.) Michaux
DistributionThroughout the Mountains and Piedmont; present over much of the Coastal Plain, but absent from the eastern counties as well as some in the southern part of the province. It is scarce or absent from the Sandhills proper. The sole Outer Banks record is from Kitty Hawk Woods, where discovered in 2010.

Found throughout the eastern US and Canada, and widely scattered in the Western states. It is absent in southern FL and in parts of the South Atlantic Coastal Plain. It is widespread globally, found south to northern South America, the West Indies, Europe, Asia, and Australia; some of these forms may warrant elevated status.
AbundanceCommon in the Mountains and Piedmont; common in the northwestern Coastal Plain, and uncommon in parts of the rest of the province, but rare in the far eastern counties and in some far southern counties.
HabitatThis species occurs in a great array of forests, mostly moist to mesic ones. It grows in bottomland forests, rich slopes, mesic pine-hardwood forests, and other similar sites.
See also Habitat Account for General Forests
PhenologyFruits in the spring, from April into June.
IdentificationThis is a quite familiar fern, seen on many forest walks, especially west of the Fall Line. It has a rather stout stipe, averaging 6-8 inches tall, with the sterile blade midway along the stem, and the much smaller fertile blade at the top, about 6-8 inches above the sterile blade. The sterile blade is ternately-divided (to look like three separate sterile blades spreading from each other), each being triangular in shape, bipinnate-pinnatifid, and thus is highly dissected; it is somewhat thick and coriaceous as well. It is roughly 5-6 inches long and broad, with about 10 pairs of pinnae, the largest at the base and gradually becoming shorter to the apex. The fertile blade has quite short pinnae, which are ascending and thus the shape is somewhat conical. The species differs from the Sceptridium species -- which were formerly included with Botrypus into the much larger Botrychium genus -- by having the stalk of the sterile blade attached midway along the stem, as opposed to the sterile blade's stalk attached to the "stem" near the base of the plant, about at ground level.
Taxonomic CommentsThe species was formerly known as Botrychium virginianum. It is our the only species in the genus Botrypus.

Other Common Name(s)None
State RankS5
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
USACE-agcpFACU link
USACE-empFACU link
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B.A. SorriePiedmont, mesic hardwoods along Crawley's Creek, May 2014. MoorePhoto_natural

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