Woodsia alpina

Alpine Woodsia

Woodsia alpina, Alpine Woodsia
Alpine Woodsia
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British Pteridological Society

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  • Woodsia, for English botanist Joseph Woods (1776-1864).
  • alpina, from the Latin, alpinus, "alpine"
  • Common name from its preferred habitat in some parts of its range (though not ours)
  • Other common names include Alpine Cliff Fern, woodsie alpine (Qué), Grey Northern Woodsia (UK), Fjällhällebräken, Kortskaftad Hällebräken (Swe), Fjell-lodnebregne (Nor), Fjeld-Frynsebregne (Dan), Tunturikiviyrtti (Fin), Fjallaliðfætla (Is), Alpen-Wimperfarn, Südlicher Wimperfarn (Ger), Woodsia d'Elbe, Woodsia méridional (Fr)


  • 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: 17738
  • Also known as Acrostichum alpinum, Woodsia belli, Woodsia hyperborea, Woodsia ilvensis var. alpina


  • A very small, rock loving fern typically growing in dense, upright tufts; rare in our area.
  • Fronds
    • Petiole short, reddish brown or dark purple when mature, articulate above base at swollen node, relatively brittle and easily shattered.
    • Rachis (leaf axis) green, grooved; slightly scaly and hairy.
    • Blade linear to narrowly lanceolate, rachis with widely scattered hairs and scales, 1"-8"× ¼"-1", but typically only about ½" x 4"
    • Pinnae (primary leaflets) ovate-lanceolate to deltate, longer than wide, abruptly tapered to a rounded or broadly acute apex; largest pinnae with 1-3 pairs of pinnules; abaxial surface with isolated hairs and linear scales, adaxial surface glabrous.
    • Pinnules (secondary leaflets) entire or broadly crenate; margins nonlustrous, thin, with occasional isolated cilia, lacking translucent projections. Vein tips often enlarged to form whitish hydathodes visible on the upper surface.
    • Sori small, round, with distinct indusium; located very near leaflet edge.
  • Rootstalk compact, erect to ascending, with cluster of persistent petiole bases of more or less equal length; scales uniformly brown, lanceolate.
    • Roots fine, hairlike, and numerous


  • Identifiable as Woodsia by
    • articulate bases to the petioles and the accumulation of petiole bases that have broken off below the articulation.
    • relatively small size for our area
    • affinity for rocky habitats
    • twice-cut fronds
  • Distinguished from
    • Smooth Woodsia (Woodsia glabella) by its widely scattered hairs and scales and dark petiole.
    • Rusty Woodsia (Woodsia ilvensis) by its scattered hairs and scales, and its largest pinnae (leaflets) having but 1-3 pairs of pinnules (secondary leaflets). Rusty Woodsia has abundant hairs and scales; its largest pinnae have 4-9 pairs of pinnules. Rusty Woodsia is also far more likely to be found in our area.
    • Rocky Mountain Woodsia (Woodsia scopulina) and Oregon Woodsia (Woodsia oregana) by its segmented stem
  • Field Marks
    • hairs and scales on fronds and leafstalks
    • presence of stem segmentation or articulation
    • petiole coloration
    • number of pinnules on largest pinnae


  • Alaska to Newfoundland and Greenland, south to Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Also northern Eurasia.
  • At the southern limit of its range in northeastern Minnesota.
  • Classified as a "Species of Special Concern" in Minnesota, found in Cook and Lake Counties, but not St. Louis.


  • Crevices and ledges on cliffs (occasionally on rocky slopes); mostly slaty and calcareous rocks
  • , especially 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