Asplenium rhizophyllum (Walking Fern)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Aspleniaceae (Spleenwort)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; damp, calcareous, moss-covered rocks
Fruiting season:summer to fall
Plant height:2 to 14 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are evergreen, simple, not compound, 2 to 14 inches long and 1 to 2½ inches wide, generally lance-linear in shape, rounded to heart-shaped at the base, occasionally with a pair of rounded lobes at the base (auriculate). Shorter leaves typically have a blunt point or are rounded at the tip. Longer leaves gradually taper to a long, fine point, the tip usually rooting and creating vegetative colonies. The stem is dark and scaly at the base but green above. Leaf edges are wavy or slightly indented, but not toothed. The surface is covered in an obscure network of veins and the leaf underside is slightly hairy. Young leaves grow horizontal to the ground while older plants are more arching. Fertile leaves are typically larger than the sterile leaves.

Spores: Fruit type: spores on leaf

[photo of spores] The sori (group of spores) are found on the underside of the leaf, irregularly scattered but primarily in the juncture of veins. The sori are linear. There is a translucent tissue (indusium) that partly covers the sori but quickly shrivels and become inconspicuous. The spores are initially yellow and turn a reddish-brown at maturity.


Rather unfern-like in appearance, Walking Fern is easy to identify because it has a simple leaf (not compound) and the tip of the leaf will root and a new plant will begin to grow. It is because it spreads this way it has acquired the common name “Walking Fern”. Look for it on shady moss-covered rocks and boulders in the southeast counties. In some references it is known as Camptosorus rhizophyllus.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken at Frontenac State Park, Goodhue County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Steve - Hackensack
on: 2014-05-07 10:57:18

I have seen a couple of these ferns In the wild and was wondering where I could purchase them

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-05-07 12:58:51

You could check with our sponsor advertisers but I don't think I've ever seen this species for sale.

Posted by: Alexis - Carpenter Nature Center, Washington County MN
on: 2016-06-12 22:15:52

6/12/16 - saw Walking Ferns at Carpenter Nature Center, on a rocky outcropping in a shady ravine.

Posted by: Nadine - Beaver Creek State Park
on: 2016-07-05 09:12:45

Excited to come home to identify the small fern that had a long runner coming off the tip of the leaf. There was a small new plant at the end of the runner that had rooted down to the moss covered rock in the shade on the bluff high above the campgrounds. Sorry to say I didn't get a picture.

Posted by: Sharen Storhoff - Fillmore county
on: 2019-04-17 21:02:22

I see hundreds of these growing on boulders that have falled away from the bluffs along the Wisel Creek. They stay green winter.

Posted by: Kate Clover - Carpenter Nature Center, Hastings, MN
on: 2019-04-28 15:32:19

Found this fern thickly growing over a chunk of limestone in the gorge on the Beach Trail.

Posted by: Aaron McGuire - Whitewater State Park
on: 2021-07-04 22:11:39

Saw Walking Fern growing on a moss-covered stone on west-facing bluff, Chimney Rock Trail.

Posted by: Sharen Hauherud Storhoff - Mabel
on: 2021-09-29 17:29:27

Dogwood Road in the Big Woods

Posted by: Matt Palen - Reno Management Unit ? Richard J. Dorer State Forest
on: 2022-03-27 13:54:37

On a trail along the ridge extending south from the primitive campsite that is directly west of Reno the path passes through a cleft in a large rock. On the southern half of the rock there is a colony of walking fern.

Posted by: Nancy Falkum - Eagle Bluff SNA Wabasha County Minnesota
on: 2022-05-06 20:16:54

I took a photo of this fern in December on the moss-covered rocks on the bluff. Above the Lake Pepin Geological Marker.

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