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Botrychium dissectum

Previously known as:

  • Botrychium dissectum var. obliquum
  • Botrychium dissectum var. oblongifolium
  • Botrychium obliquum
  • Botrychium obliquum var. elongatum
  • Sceptridium dissectum
Phonetic Spelling
boh-TRIK-ee-um dy-SEK-tum

Cutleaf grape fern is a native leathery evergreen fern in the Ophioglossaceae (Adder's-tongue) family that is native to eastern Canada, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and eastern, central, southern regions of the United States. In North Carolina, they are common in the Piedmont and Mountain regions, but they are rarely seen in the Coastal Plains. Their habitats include moist forests, sandy grasslands, wooded ravines, pastures, and the edges of swamps. They tend to favor woodlands with deciduous trees.  The genus name, Botrychium, is Greek in origin for botrys, which means "a bunch of grapes." This references the sporangia that are the spore-bearing organs of the plant. The species name, dissectum, means "dissected," which refers to the finely cut leaf pattern.

In the fall, the fronds are bright green. During the winter, the foliage is bronze-colored. They are known as grape ferns because their clustered spores resemble clusters of grapes. 

The plant prefers partial shade to medium shade and they grow best in moist sandy, loamy soils with decaying organic matter. The fern is difficult to cultivate. They are propagated by the germination of their spores which are very slow to develop. It may require 8 years before the rhizomes and fronds are produced.

Cutleaf grape fern grows up 6 to 18 inches tall, and the foliage is medium green in color. The leaves occur at the base of the plant. The fern has a single sterile leaf that is photosynthetic and (typically) a single fertile leaf that is non-photosynthetic. The leaves join together on the same stalk close to the surface of the ground. A new sterile leaf is produced in the summer, and the leaf is retained during the winter and through the following spring and summer. The sterile leaf tends to be horizontal. The petiole of the fertile leaf measures up to 12 inches long and is upright. The fertile leaf looks like a panicle with sporangia that mature in the fall or early winter, splitting open to release pale yellow to white spores into the wind, and subsequently dying back. When cold winter temperatures occur, the sterile leaf transitions from green to bronze color. The foliage will remain present until it withers early in the spring or summer. The leaflets are typically dissected and have a lacy appearance. The margins may vary, depending on the variety. The plant has no flowers or fruits. 

Plant in a woodland or shade garden.  Cutleaf grape fern is resistant to browsing by deer.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  No serious problems.

VIDEO Created by NC State Extension's Homegrown series featuring Mark Weathington, Director of JC Raulston Arboretum.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
#shade garden#spores#fern#NC native#deer resistant#native fern#food source herbage#Coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#bird friendly#Audubon#heavy shade tolerant
Cultivars / Varieties:
#shade garden#spores#fern#NC native#deer resistant#native fern#food source herbage#Coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#bird friendly#Audubon#heavy shade tolerant
  • Attributes:
    Life Cycle:
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    East Canada and U.S.A., Jamaica
    Canada: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island; USA: AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WI, and WV; Dominican Republic; Jamacia
    Height: 0 ft. 6 in. - 1 ft. 6 in.
    Width: 0 ft. 4 in. - 0 ft. 6 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Growth Rate:
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Available Space To Plant:
    Less than 12 inches
    NC Region:
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Description:
    No fruits. This plants reproduces via spores.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Description:
    No flowers.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Color:
    Leaf Feel:
    Leaf Type:
    Compound (Pinnately , Bipinnately, Palmately)
    Leaf Shape:
    Leaf Margin:
    Hairs Present:
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The Cutleaf Grape Fern has leathery, evergreen fronds. The plant has a single sterile leaf and a single fertile leaf. The two are joined near the ground surface. The sterile leaf is often parallel to the ground. It measures 6 inches long and 6 inches wide. It is pinnately divided into 6 pairs of leaflets with a terminal leaflet. Each leaflet is divided into 3-6 pairs of sub-leaflets with a terminal sub-leaflet. The sub-leaflets are lanceolate to ovate in shape. Each sub-leaflet is divided into 3-8 ovate lobes. The sterile leaf is medium to dark green in color, and the underside is medium green. The fertile leaf is up to 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. It is on a long stalk that stands above the sterile leaf. The fertile leaf looks like a panicle with clusters of spore cases or sporangia. The sporangia are on the terminal ends of the fertile leaf. The sporangia are smooth and pale yellow. In late fall to early winter, the sporangia mature. They will split open to release the spores to the wind. The fertile leaf will wither away. The sterile leaf color changes to bronze over the winter and withers away in the spring or summer. The margins of the leaves may vary and depend on the variety.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    Stem Cross Section:
    Stem Form:
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    The petiole of the sterile leaf is up to 6 inches long, light green to brown, flattened, grooved, and glabrous. The petiole of the fertile leaf is on the same stalk as the sterile leaf. They join together near the surface of the ground. The petiole of the fertile leaf is up to 12 inches long, light green to brown, rounded, and glabrous.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Landscape Theme:
    Native Garden
    Shade Garden
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Heavy Shade