Ophioglossum - Ophioglossaceae

Ophioglossum polyphyllum A.Braun [aggregate]

Photo: P. Ballings

Photo: P. Ballings

Photo: P. Ballings






Ophioglossum vulgatum L. var. polyphyllum (A. Braun) Milde
Ophioglossum cuspidatum Milde
Ophioglossum capense Schltdl. var. regulare Schltdl.
Ophioglossum regulare (Schltdl.) C.Chr.

Common name


Rhizome spindle-shaped to linear, 10-60 mm long; roots fleshy, horizontaly interconnected; persistent leaf bases present at the top of the rhizome. Leaves 1 to 2, held at 70-80% from the horizontal. Petiole up to 25-70 mm long, 40–60% of its length subterranean. Sterile lamina 20-60 × 7-29 mm, grey or glaucus green, narrowly elliptic to oblong lanceolate, 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.


O. polyphyllum is easy to recognise by the cluster of dried leaf petioles at the top of the rhizome. Recently 2 var. 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, Democratic 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).
  • 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.