Ophioglossum - Ophioglossaceae

Ophioglossum polyphyllum A.Braun [aggregate]

Photo: P. Ballings

Photo: JE. Burrows
South Africa

Photo: JE. Burrows
South Africa






Ophioglossum vulgatum L. var. polyphyllum (A. Braun) Milde
Ophioglossum cuspidatum Milde
Ophioglossum capense Schltdl. var. regulare sensu Schltdl., non Sw.
Ophioglossum regulare (Schltdl.) C.Chr.
Ophioglossum tapinum Peter

Common name


Rhizome spindle-shaped to linear, (6-)14-18(-70) mm long, 2-4 mm wide; roots fleshy, horizontal but sometimes descending, proliferous; persistent leaf bases present at the top of the rhizome. Leaves 1 to 2, held at 70-80% from the horizontal. Stipe (18-)40-65(-107) mm long, 40–60% of its length subterranean; stipe:lamina lenght ratio 0.8-1.5:1, old stipe bases persistent. Sterile lamina (20-)34-52(-60) × (7-)12-17(-30) mm, grey or glaucus green, narrowly elliptic to narrowly ovate, length:width ratio 1.4–4.5:1 (5-10.5:1 in var. angustifolium), apex pointed, mucronate, occasionally rounded, base wedge-shaped, texture rather fleshy, venation obscured in live material. Fertile spike 40–100 mm long, with 12–30 pairs of sporangia; fertile spike:lamina ratio 1.2-2.4:1.


O. polyphyllum is easy to recognise by the cluster of dried leaf petioles at the top of the rhizome. Recently 2 varieties have been distinguished: var. polymorpha (width:length ratio 1:1.4-4.5) and var. angustifolium (width:length ratio 1:5-10.5)


polyphyllum: with many leaves


Growing in various habitats (open grasslands, deciduous woodlands, rocky outcrops, soils overlying sheetrock, alluvial soils near rivers, ..) but absent from forests.

Distribution worldwide

Africa, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, India, Cape Verde Isl., Canary Isl. and St. Helena.

Distribution in Africa

Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Chad, Dem. Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Morocco and Western Sahara, Mozambique, Namibia, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan and South Sudan, Tanzania , Uganda, Zimbabwe.

Growth form



  • Burrows, J.E. (1990) Southern African Ferns and Fern Allies. Frandsen, Sandton. Pages 46 - 47. (Includes a picture).
  • Burrows, J.E. & Johns, R.J. (2001) Ophioglossaceae. Flora of Tropical East Africa, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew . Pages 10 - 11. (Includes a picture).
  • Crouch, N.R., Klopper, R.R., Burrows, J.E. & Burrows, S.M. (2011) Ferns of Southern Africa, A comprehensive guide. Struik Nature. Pages 104 - 107. Describes 2 var. (var. polyphyllum and var. angustifolium) (Includes a picture).
  • Jacobsen, W.B.G. (1983) The Ferns and Fern Allies of Southern Africa. Butterworths, Durban and Pretoria. Pages 163 - 164. (Includes a picture).
  • Roux, J.P. (2009) Synopsis of the Lycopodiophyta and Pteridophyta of Africa, Madagascar and neighbouring islands. Strelitzia 23, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria. Pages 34 - 35.
  • Roux, J.P. (2001) Conspectus of Southern African Pteridophyta.Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report, 13 Page 33.
  • Schelpe, E.A.C.L.E. (1970) Pteridophyta.Flora Zambesiaca, 0 Page 37.