Maidenhair Fern
Maidenhair Fern

Where ferns are usually associated with moist, shaded habitats many people are surprised to find them in Zion National Park, but some fern species have evolved enabling them to survive the arid conditions of a desert. Known as xerophytic ferns they belong to the Pteridaceae family which also includes the wet-growing maidenhair ferns. The roots of these ferns have the distinctive roots shared by all ferns but desert adaptations include small, dissected leaves covered by dense scales or color variations which reflect sunlight, leaves which curl into compact balls, and leaf and stem hairs. These features aid in reducing evaporation. Some species have adapted by allowing themselves to dry out completely during drought conditions, even for several years if needed, and then springing back to life after a rain storm.

Ferns lack flowers or seeds and reproduce through tiny clusters of spores contained within small capsules which eventually pop open, throwing millions of ripe spores into the air hoping they will find the perfect environment to produce a new plant. Fern fossils date back over 360 million years, living on earth 200 million years before flower producing plants, they even predate land animals; including dinosaurs.

The shallow roots and fragile stems of desert ferns make them susceptible to erosion. With limited habitat providing the right amount of moisture, light, and substrate each plant struggles in its scattering.

Zion National Park is home to 20 known fern species, including maidenhair, lipfern, spleenwort, hollyfern, and bracken. Fern allies include 4 species of horsetail (scouring rush) and 2 species of spikemoss.

Scouring Rush
Scouring Rush

Fern Family (Polypodiaceae)
Little ebony spleenwort - Asplenium resiliens (Rare)
Black spleenwort - Asplenium adiantum-nigrum (Rare)
Southern maidenhair - Adiantum capillus-veneris (Common)
Birdfoot maidenhair - Adiantum pedatum (Rare)
Goldfern - Pityrogramma triangularis (Rare)
Spiny cliffbrake - Pellaea truncata
Purple cliffbrake - Pellaea glabella
Slender lipfern - Cheilanthes feei
Coville lipfern - Cheilanthes covillei
Brittle bladderfern - Cystopteris fragilis (Common)
Bulblet bladderfern - Cystopteris bulbifera
Bracken - Pteridium aquilinum pubescens
Male fern - Dryopteris filix-mas
Western hollyfern - Polystichum scopulinum (Rare)
Western polypody - Polypodium hesperium

Horsetail/Souringrush Family (Equisetaceae)
Common/Meadow horsetail - Equisetum arvense (Common)
Common scouringrush - Equisetem hyemale (Common)
Smooth scouringrush - Equisetern laevigatum (Common)

Spikemoss Family (Selaginellaceae)
Underwood spikemoss - Selaginella underwoodii
Utah/Zion spikemoss - Selaginella utahensis

Last updated: July 9, 2017

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Zion National Park
1 Zion Park Blvd.

Springdale, UT 84767


If you have questions, please email zion_park_information@nps.gov. Listen to recorded information by calling anytime 24 hours a day. Rangers answer phone calls from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. MT, but a ranger may not answer if they are already speaking with someone else.

Contact Us