Ophioglossum pusillum

Northern Adder's Tongue

Northern Adder's Tongue, Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and Stephen L. Solheim
Northern Adder's Tongue
Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium
and Stephen L. Solheim

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


  • Ophioglossum, from the Greek ofis (ophis), "sepent", and glossa (glôssa), "tongue"; hence, "serpent's tongue"
  • pusillum, from the Latin, "small, weak, or insignificant"
  • Common name from the resemblance of the pointed tip to a snake's tongue.
  • Other common names include Herbe-sans-couture, Ophioglosse Vulgaire (Qué)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Polypodiophyta, the True Ferns
      • Class Filicopsida
        • Order Ophioglossales
          • Family Ophioglossaceae, the Adder's Tongue or Succulent Ferns
            • Genus Ophioglossum, the Adder's Tongues
  • Taxonomic Serial Number:504033
  • Also known as Ophioglossum vulgatum


  • A rarely noted, atypical fern of wet places, 5"-12" tall, deciduous.
  • Sterile Frond a single, grass green, oval leaf, tapering gradually at base with rounded tip, widest in the middle, to 4"x1½"; soft herbaceous, with delicate net veining.
  • Fertile Frond a stalk 2-4 times the height of the leaf, topped with a double row (10-40 pairs) of bead-like spore cases.
  • Stem upright, green, smooth, and fragile
  • Roots yellow to tan, up to 15 per plant, less than 1/16" in diameter, producing plantlets.


  • Identifiable as an Adder's Tongue by its single, oval leaf with net venation, and the single fertile stalk with its two rows of spore cases.
  • Distinguished from unrelated but superficially similar monocotyledonous plants by its net veining on the single leaf. Monocots have parallel venation.
  • Field Marks
    • single oval leaf with net veining
    • single fertile stalk with two rows of bead-like spore cases


  • Ontario to Newfoundland, south to Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware
  • Also, the Pacific Northwest, from British Columbia to Northern California, and East to northwestern Montana
  • Ophioglossum pusillum is inconspicuous and may be much more common than collection records indicate.


  • Open fens, bogs, damp sand, marsh edges, pastures, wet meadows, grassy swales, old fields, roadside ditches, grassy shores, rich swamplands, mud creeks, cedar swamps and flood plain woods in seasonally wet, rather acidic soil.
  • Occasionally occurs on dry, sandy beaches or hillsides; the subterranean gametophyte may be an adaptation to seasonal drying and/or fire.






  • By spores


  • By spores (difficult)


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Not generally cultivated



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Last Updated on 26 February, 2004