Cystopteris fragilis (L.) Bernh.

fragile fern

New England Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

Where native and non-native distributions co-occur in a county, only the native distribution is shown.

North America Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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Facts About

Fragile fern is more likely to be found on cliffs and at higher elevations and/or latitudes than the other fragile fern (Cystopteris) species. The stem is brittle near its base. If you think you have found this species, look for the previous year's remaining bases of broken off leaves.

Habitat

Talus and rocky slopes

Characteristics

Habitat
terrestrial
New England state
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Vermont
Leaf divisions
  • the leaf blade is compound (divided into leaflets)
  • the leaf blade is twice compound (divided into leaflets, which are further divided into leaflets)
Plant growth form
the leaves grow from a rhizome growing at or below the ground
Spore-bearing leaflets
the spore-bearing fronds are similar in size and shape to the sterile fronds
Sorus shape
the sori are circular or kidney-shaped
Leaf stalk scales
the leaf stalk has scales
Leaf stalk hairs
there are no hairs on the leaf stalk
Leaf blade length
5–30 cm
Leaf vein tips
the veins go all the way to the edge of the leaf blade
Show All Characteristics
  • Growth form
    Life form
    the plant is herbaceous and terrestrial
    Life stage
    the plant is visible as a typical leaf-bearing fern (sporophyte)
    Spore-bearing leaflets
    the spore-bearing fronds are similar in size and shape to the sterile fronds
  • Leaves
    Features of leaves
    there are no special features on the leaves
    Leaf blade length
    5–30 cm
    Leaf blade shape
    • the leaf blades are widest above the base, then taper narrowly towards the tip (lanceolate)
    • the leaf blades are widest near the middle and tapered towards the base and tip (elliptic)
    Leaf blade width
    At least 3 cm
    Leaf divisions
    • the leaf blade is compound (divided into leaflets)
    • the leaf blade is twice compound (divided into leaflets, which are further divided into leaflets)
    Leaf lifespan
    the leaves drop off in winter
    Leaf stalk color
    yellow to brown
    Leaf stalk hairs
    there are no hairs on the leaf stalk
    Leaf stalk length
    26–229 mm
    Leaf stalk relative length
    the leaf stalk is more than three quarters as long as the blade
    Leaf stalk scale location
    the scales are present only on the lower half of the leaf stalk
    Leaf stalk scales
    the leaf stalk has scales
    Leaf stalk vessels
    2 bundles
    Leaf vein branching
    the secondary veins of the leaf blade branch dichotomously (two equal branches at each branch point)
    Leaf vein tips
    the veins go all the way to the edge of the leaf blade
    Leaflet relative size
    the bottom leaflets are about half as long as, to slightly longer than, the leaflets from the middle of the frond
    Leaflet stalks
    • the leaflets are stalked
    • the leaflets do not have stalks
    Lobe or leaflet length
    9–65 mm
    Lobe or leaflet pairs
    9–15
    Lobe or leaflet shape
    • the lobe or leaflet is roughly triangular with the stalk in the center of the narrowest side (narrow-triangular)
    • the lobe or leaflet is roughly triangular with the stalk in the center of the widest side (broad-triangular)
    • the lobe or leaflet is widest below the middle and broadly tapering at both ends; egg-shaped
    Lobe or leaflet width
    5–25 mm
    Plant growth form
    the leaves grow from a rhizome growing at or below the ground
    final leaf segment margin
    • the topmost lobe or leaflet of the leaf blade has a smooth or lobed edge
    • the topmost lobe or leaflet of the leaf blade has an edge with teeth
  • Place
    Habitat
    terrestrial
    New England state
    • Connecticut
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • New Hampshire
    • Vermont
    Specific habitat
    talus or rocky slopes
  • Spores or spore cones
    Sorus features
    there are no special features on the sorus
    Sorus shape
    the sori are circular or kidney-shaped
    Sporangia location
    the spores are clustered on sori on the lower surface of the leaf blade
    Sporangium type
    the sporangia are opaque without an annulus and usually without a stalk (leptosporangiate)
    Spore forms
    there is only one type of spore present

Wetland Status

Usually occurs in non-wetlands, but occasionally in wetlands. (Wetland indicator code: FACU)

New England Distribution and Conservation Status

Distribution

Connecticut
present
Maine
present
Massachusetts
present
New Hampshire
present
Rhode Island
absent
Vermont
present

Conservation Status

Exact status definitions can vary from state to state. For details, please check with your state.

Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

Native to North America?

Yes

Sometimes Confused With

Cystopteris tenuis:
leafules on basal leaflets short-stalked, tapering to base, and angled to lean toward tip of leaflet (vs. C. fragilis, with leafules on basal leaflets unstalked, +/- truncate, and emerging perpendicular to leaflet axis).

Synonyms

  • Cystopteris dickieana Sim
  • Polypodium fragile L.

Family

Woodsiaceae

Genus

Cystopteris

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Information from Dichotomous Key of Flora Novae Angliae

2.  Cystopteris fragilis (L.) Bernh. N

fragile fern. Cystopteris dickieana Sim; Polypodium fragile L. • CT, MA, ME, NH, VT. On rock or 
thin soil over rock.

2×5. Cystopteris fragilis × Cystopteris tenuis Recognition of this nothospecies is generally missed during floristic inventories; it is most commonly misidentified as Cystopteris tenuis. It is intermediate between the two parental taxa, though on average larger than either, and possesses abortive spores.