Polypody Family

California Polypody © KKorbholz

Polypodiaceae (pol-ee-po-DAY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Stalks light-colored and usually smooth
  • Fronds 0- to 1-pinnate
  • Sori usually along frond veins
  • No indusia

Description (Jepson)

  • Ferns (Polypodiopsida) 
    • An early 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
  • Perennial herbs
    • Grow from rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
  • Fronds (leaves)
    • Simple (not divided into leaflets) to compound (divided into leaflets), with 1 level of division (1-pinnate)
    • Variable in texture, from very thin to fleshy to leathery
    • Young fronds uncurl from tight spirals called fiddleheads
    • Stalks (petioles) are generally green or straw-colored to brown
      • Usually not scaly/hairy
  • 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 on the underside of leaflets, usually along veins, sometimes scattered or near margins
    • Have no indusium (plural: indusia), a tissue flap sometimes covering immature sori


  • Approximately 650 species worldwide
  • Plants terrestrial, on rock, or often epiphytic (growing on other plants; not deriving moisture and nutrients directly from its host)
  • Scientific and common name from the genus Polypodium, from the Latin poly, “many,” and pody, “feet,” referring to rhizomes (underground, horizontal stems)
  • California polypody (Polypodium californicum) is the only representative of this family at Edgewood
  • Edgewood has 7 fern species in 4 plant families 

See General References

Specific References

American Fern Society. About Ferns. Resources.

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

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

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