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Stiff Star-hair Fern (Thelypteris sclerophylla)

Thelypteris sclerophylla in a Miami-Dade County. Photo Credit: A. Rosenberg
  • Global Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Thelypteridaceae
  • State: FL
  • Nature Serve ID: 143177
  • Date Inducted in National Collection:

A terrestrial, perennial, stiff star-hair fern that has a very short, erect stem and pinnate-pinnatifid fronds that can grow up to 50 cm in length with short petioles. Similarly, the stem, fronds and petiole are all covered in forked or stellate hairs, which give the plant a stiff, papery feel. It's Sori are round and borne on the underside of fertile fronds. The spores are dark brown in coloration with heart-shaped Gametophytes. Thelypteris sclerophylla occurs in Rockland Hammocks in Miami-Dade County, FL but is also common in The Greater Antilles (Cuba Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico), The West Indies, as well as Central and South America. This is a globally rare species, with only two populations contained on two, small Miami-Dade preserves with 100-200 sporophytes held at HRD and 64 sporophytes (20% of these are large enough to sporulate and their fronds are greater than 20 m long) in FUH.

Where is Stiff Star-hair Fern (Thelypteris sclerophylla) located in the wild?


Thelypteris slerophylla is endemic to rockland hammocks of Southern Florida.  In order to thrive, it requires full shade as well as high levels of humidity; due to this, it is often found on limestone outcroppings (sometimes with a thin layer of humus) under the shade of humid hardwood forests.  It occurs at very low elevations in Florida and middle to high elevations in Puerto Rico (350-1100m), often on steep banks (Proctor 1989).


This species is currently and historically endemic to Miami-Dade Country in South Florida, The Greater Antilles (Cuba Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico), The West Indies, as well as Central and South America.

States & Provinces:

Stiff Star-hair Fern can be found in Florida

Which CPC Partners conserve Stiff Star-hair Fern (Thelypteris sclerophylla)?

CPC's Plant Sponsorship Program provides long term stewardship of rare plants in our National Collection. We are so grateful for all our donors who have made the Plant Sponsorship Program so successful. We are in the process of acknowledging all our wonderful plant sponsorship donors on our website. This is a work in progress and will be updated regularly.

Conservation Actions

  • 01/31/2018

CREW has developed spore cultivation methods in vitro on a 1/2  Murashige and Skooge 1.5% medium.  Compared to other fern species, T. scerlophylla was very slow to grow sporophytes but growth was better on soil than agar. However, nearly 18 months passed before a sporophyte even emerged ((Possley and Maschinski 2007).

Cultivation of this species in the nursery is relatively easy once the plants have acclimated to soil and ambient air and due to its sclerophyllous nature, it appears to not be as vulnerable to drying out as many other rare, native ferns.  At Fairchild, we have met success at growing this plant by adding a 1:2 mix of perlite to our standard nursery mixture (contains peat and soil conditioner) with irrigation every 1-2 days and use of slow-release fertilizer granules.

  • 01/30/2018

Augmenting wild populations at FUH and HRD may be an option for outplanting.  If we only consider additional potential introduction sites within the historic range of T. sclerophylla, we would be limited to only a handful of Miami-Dade County preserves located within the 17 kilometers between occupied sites FUH and HRD. Sites containing the appropriate habitat (mature hammock, low light, high humidity, limestone outcroppings) within this narrow geographic area include HBH, MSH, SPH, SPG, and possibly CASH, CASR, and BCF.

  • 01/30/2018

Fairchilds ex situ collections are approaching 1/3 the side of the numbers in the wild, with 49 plants as of May 2015.  We hope to conduct an outplanting into suitable habitat and further safeguard the status of this species in Florida.

  • 01/30/2018

At the least, continued annual monitoring of both Miami-Dade populations for health and sporulation, continued collection of spores from wild and ex situ for long term cryogenic storage at the NCGRP, as well as the augmentation of current populations, or reintroducing new ones to a suitable Miami-Dade habitat are all recommended steps to ensure the survival of this species.

  • 01/30/2018

At HRD and FUH, current management by Miami-Dade County Natural Areas Management (NAM) appears to be sufficient to maintain the population at current levels.  However, this status of this species would be strengthened in South Florida by augmenting current populations and/or introducing new ones within its historic range.

  • 01/23/2018

Invasion by non native plants is a serious threat to T.sclerophylla and includes the following species within Miami-Dade County: Epipremnum pinnatum, Syngonium podophyllum, Schefflera actinophylla, Ardisia elliptica, and others.

  • 01/23/2018

T. sclerophylla may hybridize with a co-occurring native fern Thelypteris reptans, however, it is unclear whether this represents a threat to this species. A hybrid between these 2 taxa has been described from Cuba (Sanchez et al. 2006) and Possley believes she has observed it in Florida as well.  Material was sent to Alan Smith at US Berkeley for examination in 2014.

  • 01/23/2018

Vegetation management crews may have an accidental impact due to activities such as off target herbicide damage, piling of vegetation debris, or the removal of non-native overstory species that can cause sudden increase in light and decrease in humidity.   The  off-site drainage or lowering of  the regional water table may also play a negative role as well.

  • 01/23/2018

Although succession in mature hammocks where T. sclerophylla is found is not usually a problem, succession due to gap openings (from storms or weed removal) may pose a serious threat.

  • 01/23/2018

Hurricanes decrease hammock canopy cover, likely leading to increased light levels and decreased moisture levels, which would negatively impact this species. Major hurricanes could cause mortality.

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Very rare in Florida. Locally frequent elsewhere in range, but range is limited to Greater Antilles and Florida.


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Taxon Thelypteris sclerophylla
Authority (Poepp. ex Spreng) C.V. Morton
Family Thelypteridaceae
CPC Number 4447
ITIS 17270
Common Names Stiff star-hair fern | stiff maiden fern
Associated Scientific Names Dryopteris sclerophylla | Goniopteris sclerophylla | Thelypteris sclerophylla | Aspidium sclerophyllum
Distribution This species is currently and historically endemic to Miami-Dade Country in South Florida, The Greater Antilles (Cuba Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico), The West Indies, as well as Central and South America.
State Rank
State State Rank
Florida S1
Ecological Relationships

In Southern Florida, this species coexists with several mature rockland hammock tree species in the overstory (e.g. Sideroxylon foetidissumum, Ficus aurea, Bursera simarouba, etc), as well as other native lithophytic ferns in the understory (e.g., Ctenitis sloanei, Adiantum spp.).

Lead Institution State Reintroduction Type Year of First Outplanting
Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden Florida Reintroduction 2020

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