Coffee Fern

Coffee Fern © DSchiel

Coffee Cliffbrake
Pellaea andromedifolia

Description (Jepson,

  • Fern (Polypodiopsida)
    • Ferns are a group of vascular plants that produce spores (reproductive cells)
      • Produce no flowers or seeds
      • Fossil records date back almost 400 million years, versus 130 million years for flowering plants
  • Brake Family (Pteridaceae)
  • Perennial herb
    • Grows from long, branched rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
  • Fronds
    • Triangular blade is compound (divided into leaflets), with usually 3 levels of division (3-pinnate)
    • Leaflets are green to purplish, rounded, and may be notched at tip
    • Stalks (petioles) are dark brown to black, smooth, and wiry
  • Sori
    • Sori (singular: sorus) are clusters of spore-producing, sac-like structures called sporangia (singular: sporangium)
      • Sporangia sacs split open to catapult mature, microscopic spores, which are wind dispersed
    • Located in the curled-under margins of leaflets
    • Have no indusium (plural: indusia), a tissue flap sometimes covering sori


  • Native to California
    • Grows in chaparral, grasslands, and moist woodlands, in rock crevices and on shaded hillsides
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California, grows from Oregon to Baja California, Mexico
  • Grows at elevations to 3,775 ft.
Underside with Spores © DSchiel

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • No documented wildlife or human uses found for this species

Name Derivation

  • Pellaea (pel-EE-a) – from the Greek pellaios, “dark,” referring to the dark stems and the dark color of mature fronds
  • andromedifolia (an-dro-me-di-FO-lee-a) – has fronds like the bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia), itself named after Andromeda, a princess from Greek mythology, who was chained to a rock as an offering to a sea monster and rescued by Perseus
  • Coffee – refers to the dark color of the mature leaflets and perhaps to their shape, reminiscent of a coffee bean


  • Grows new fronds in the wet season, remaining into the following year
  • New growth is bright green; fronds darken as they age becoming purple-red or brown
  • Deer resistant

ID Tips

  • The 2 other Edgewood ferns in the Brake family – goldback fern (Pentagramma triangularis ssp. triangularis) and California maidenhair fern (Adiantum jordanii) – also have dark-brown to black, smooth, wiry stems, but each has distinct leaflets

At Edgewood

  • Found in partially-shaded chaparral and similar dry, rocky places
  • Coffee fern will tolerate more sunshine than other Edgewood ferns

See General References

Specific References

American Fern Society. About Ferns.

Pai, A. 2018, Dec. 28. Fantastic ferns and where to find them. Bay Nature.

Prigge, B.A. and A.C. Gibson. 2013. Pellaea andromedifolia. A Naturalist’s Flora of the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills, California. Web version, hosted at Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. United States Department of Interior, National Park Service.

U.S. Forest Service. What are ferns? Forest Service. United States Department of Agriculture.