walking fern

(Asplenium rhizophyllum)

Conservation Status
walking fern
Photo by Nancy Falkum
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed


Walking fern is a small, attractive, easily identified fern. It occurs in North America from Quebec to Florida west to Manitoba and Arkansas. It reaches the western extent of its range in Minnesota, where it occurs in the Driftless Area in the southeast, north to the Metro Area, with scattered occurrences in Todd, Morrison, Nicollet, and Blue Earth Counties. It is also cultivated. Its unique appearance makes it one of the most easily recognized ferns in Minnesota. It is found on moss-covered cliff faces and crevices of rock outcroppings where it is protected from the wind. It grows in moist, humid conditions on thin, rocky, limey (calcareous) soil under dense or partial shade. It sometimes grows on fallen logs or on soil. It rarely grows on sandstone.

Walking fern is low growing, 1 to 6 in height, perennial fern that rises on a tuft of leaves from the crown of a short, slender, erect, underground stem (rhizome) and slender, fibrous roots.

The leaf stalk, variously called the stipe or the petiole, is slender, flattened, and grooved above. It is reddish-brown and sometimes shiny at the base, becoming dull and green near the top. It can vary greatly in length, from 316 (0.5 cm) long and 0.1 times as long as the blade, to 4¾ (12 cm) long and 1.5 times longer than the blade. There are dark brown, narrowly triangular scales at the base and minute, club-shaped hairs near the top.

The blade varies greatly in size and shape, even on the same plant. It is leathery, undivided, narrowly triangular to linear lance-shaped, to 11¾ (1 to 30 cm) long, and 316 to 2 (0.5 to 5.0 cm) wide. The base of the blade may be heart-shaped (cordate), arrowhead-shaped with the lobes turned outward (hastate), or have ear-like lobes (auriculate). The tip may be rounded or very long and thin. When long and thin the leaf will root at the tip when it touches the ground, giving rise to a new plant. This is the feature that gives the fern its common name. The upper surface is dark green and hairless. The lower surface is pale green and hairless or sparsely hairy. The margins may be flat or slightly wavy. The lateral veins branch and rejoin before reaching the margin, forming an intertwining network with well-defined open areas near the midrib. Sterile leaves are similar in shape but smaller in size than fertile leaves.

The reproductive structures are born on the underside of the blade. There are numerous elongated clusters (sora) of spore-bearing cases (sporangia) scattered irregularly along the lateral veins on each side of the midrib. The flap of tissue covering each sorus (indusium) is inconspicuous and is attached to one side. There are 64 spores in each sporangium.




1 to 6


Similar Species

  No similar species in North America  

Moist. Moss covered cliff faces and rock outcroppings. Full shade. Thin, rocky, calcareous soil.




May to October


Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 24, 28, 29, 30.








Somewhat rare and local

  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Polypodiophytina  
  Class Polypodiopsida (ferns)  
  Subclass Polypodiidae  


Polypodiales (true ferns)  




Aspleniaceae (spleenworts)  


Asplenium (spleenworts)  

Until recently, walking fern was classified as Camptosorus rhizophyllus. It was originally described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 as Asplenium rhizophyllum. In 1833 it was placed in a segregated genus Camptosorus due to the irregular arrangement ofr its sori. DNA studies published in 1999 and 2004 showed that the genus Camptosorus is nested within Asplenium, and the species’ original classification was restored.


Subordinate Taxa






Antigramma rhizophylla

Camptosorus rhizophyllus


Common Names


North American walking fern

walking fern










Alkaline; rich in limestone; containing a high proportion of calcium carbonate.



Undergarment. In ferns: A veil covering the cluster (sorus) of spore-producing structures (sporangia). In fungi: A skirt-like structure hanging from the cap (receptacle) of a stinkhorn.



A horizontal, usually underground stem. It serves as a reproductive structure, producing roots below and shoots above at the nodes.



A compact cluster of spore-bearing cases or sacs (sporangia) on a fern. Plural: sori.



A spore bearing structure, as of a fern, moss, or slime mold. Plural: sporangia.



A supporting stalk-like structure lacking vascular tissue. In fungi, the stalk supporting the mushroom cap. In ferns, the stalk connecting the blade to the rhizome. In flowering plants, the stalk connecting the flower’s ovary to the receptacle. Iin orchids; the band connecting the pollina with the viscidium.





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Nancy Falkum


Walking fern Asplenium rhizophyllum

    walking fern      

Walking fern Asplenium rhizophyllum

looking down the hill to the frozen Mississippi River visible through the trees

taken 8 December 2015

  walking fern  
MinnesotaSeasons.com Photos








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Other Videos
  Walking Fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum)
Andrew McCaskill

Sep 30, 2021

This page will serve as a repository for field botany videos, primarily for my biology students, though all are welcome. I will periodically post field botany videos as opportunity avails itself. Field botany, of course, is better “in the field.” However, I have found it difficult to take my students into “the field” for various reasons. Limitations aside, I desire to transmit my love for botany to my students and hope in some small measure to introduce them to the wonderful world of field botany. Perhaps, as it did in me, this effort will spark a future love for botany and more importantly, a love for the Creator of these incredible botanical wonders.

My purpose then is to…

(1) Introduce my students to native plants of Virginia (though occasionally plants from other regions might make the list).

(2) Provide a snapshot of the plant only (a teaser of sorts). My intent is not to be thorough, since I desire for students to complete a field botany notebook and fill in the missing details themselves.

(3) Give God the due glory He deserves for His creative genius.

  Exploring Limestone Cliffs For Unique Ferns & Other Plants
Learn Your Land

Jan 30, 2017

Limestone is a unique substrate housing unique plant communities. In this video, I explore limestone cliffs in Western Pennsylvania in search of unique ferns and other plants — including walking fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum), marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis), sharp-lobed hepatica (Anemone acutiloba), and partridge berry (Mitchella repens).

Music: Doctor Turtle — "Lullaby For Democracy" https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

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  Nancy Falkum

Location: Bald Eagle Bluff SNA

Walking fern Asplenium rhizophyllum

walking fern

MinnesotaSeasons.com Sightings




Created: 12/21/2021

Last Updated:

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