Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for American Climbing Fern - Lygodium palmatum   (Bernhardi) Swartz
Members of Lygodium with account distribution info or public map:
Google Images
Section 2 » Order Polypodiales » Family Lygodiaceae
Show/Hide Synonym
Author(Bernhardi) Swartz
DistributionThroughout the Mountains, and most of the Piedmont but absent from the northeastern portions. Present in the Coastal Plain only in the Sandhills and the southern portions.

This is a Northeastern species, found from NH to southern MI, and south to SC and northeastern AL.
AbundanceGenerally infrequent in the Mountains; quite uncommon in the Piedmont, except absent in the northeastern portions. Rare to uncommon in the southern Coastal Plain, locally numerous along streams in the Sandhills. Despite collections from nearly 40 counties, this is a rather scarce species in most of the state where it occurs, not often encountered. Even so, local populations can be large, and the website editors suggest a State Rank of S3S4 instead of the NCNHP's S3.
HabitatThis species grows in a great array of places with strongly acidic soil, usually where somewhat moist. It occurs on the margins of thickets, mesic pine-hardwood forests, opening in bottomlands and swamps, in bogs, on creek banks and bluffs, and other places. Why the species is so scarce, considering the great array of potential sites (which are abundant), is not clear.
PhenologyFruits from July to September.
IdentificationThis is the only native fern that has a twining, vinelike stem, familiar to most biologists and many laypersons. The "frond" can be 8-9 feet long, and the "leaves", which are actually pinnae, are scattered along the rachis. The sterile pinnae (green in color) are palmately lobed, very much looking like a small hand with 5-7 slender and rounded lobes, and about 1.5-2 inches long and across. The pinnae at the end of the frond are the fertile ones, much smaller but still hand-like and green in color. The plants are usually seen in small colonies of tangled masses, climbing on other plants or trailing along the ground. The other NC member of the genus -- L. japonicum -- is an exotic species, with pinnately compound fronds, looking somewhat like some native ferns except for its vine-like habit.
Taxonomic CommentsThis is the only member of the genus native to the US.

Other Common Name(s)Climbing Fern, Hartford Fern
State RankS3 [S3S4]
Global RankG4
State Status
US Status
USACE-agcpFACW link
USACE-empFACW link
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
Select a source
Select an occurrence type