Woolly Lip Fern

Myriopteris lanosa (Michx.) Grusz & Windham

Cheilanthes lanosa line drawing
Britton, N.L., and A. Brown (1913); downloaded from USDA-Plants Database.

Filicopsida (Ferns)
Pteridaceae (Maidenhair-fern Family)
State Protection
Listed as Endangered by New York State: in imminent danger of extirpation in New York. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Critically Imperiled in New York - Especially vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to extreme rarity or other factors; typically 5 or fewer populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, very few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or very steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Secure globally - Common in the world; widespread and abundant (but may be rare in some parts of its range).


Did you know?

This fern was last seen in New York on Iona Island in the Hudson River in 1954. There are other historical records from the 1800s from Highlands, NY and the northern tip of Manhattan. The genus name refers to the marginal sori (cheilos=marginal and anthos=flower) and the specific name refers to the woolly leaf stalks.

State Ranking Justification

All of the historical locations were surveyed and the plant has only been found at one location. There does seem to be potential habitat at a few of the historical locations and in adjacent areas. This provides hope that this plant is indeed persisting in greater numbers within the state.

Long-term Trends

Four of the six historical records have been extirpated and only one current occurrence exists.

Conservation and Management

Research Needs

Habitat modeling could be done on the preferred rock outcrops of this fern so more potential sites could be surveyed. A visit to known populations located in adjacent states may help narrow down the potential habitat.



A fern of cliffs and rock outcrops, often in areas where traces of lime are found within the rock (New York Natural Heritage Program 2004). Rocky slopes and ledges, on a variety of substrates including limestone and graninte (Flora of North America 1993). Cliffs and shale outcrops, mostly in subacid soil (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Dry rocky ledges (Cobb 1984). Cliffs and rocky slopes or gravelly banks (Fernald 1970).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Calcareous cliff community* (guide)
    A community that occurs on vertical exposures of resistant, calcareous bedrock (such as limestone or dolomite) or consolidated material; these cliffs often include ledges and small areas of talus.
  • Cliff community* (guide)
    A community that occurs on vertical exposures of resistant, non-calcareous bedrock (such as quartzite, sandstone, or schist) or consolidated material; these cliffs often include ledges and small areas of talus.
  • Roadcut cliff/slope*
    A sparsely vegetated cliff or steep slope, along a road, that was created by blasting or digging during road construction.
  • Shale cliff and talus community* (guide)
    A community that occurs on nearly vertical exposures of shale bedrock and includes ledges and small areas of talus. Talus areas are composed of small fragments that are unstable and steeply sloping; the unstable nature of the shale results in uneven slopes and many rock crevices.

* probable association but not confirmed.


New York State Distribution

There is one existing site of this fern today, but there are also historical reports from upper Manhattan, Westchester County, Poughkeepsie, town of Highland near the Mid-Hudson Bridge, and a single location in the Catskills. The Hudson Highlands, Catskills, Palisades, and southern Shawangunk Mountains should be surveyed in more detail for the possible presence of this plant. This plant was recently rediscovered in New York.

Global Distribution

A fern with very local distribution ranging from Connecticut and New York, west to Wisconsin and Minnesota, and south to Georgia and Texas.

Identification Comments

General Description

This is a small greenish-gray fern that grows out of the cracks in cliffs. The narrow leaves are not very dense and grow up to 30 cm long with 12-20 pairs of lance-shaped leaflets that decrease in size and spacing especially toward the tip. The leaflets are divided once into smaller leaflets with shallow lobes. They are densely hairy underneath with mats of shiny white to brownish hairs. The spore packets (sporangia) are arranged around the edge of the underside of the leaf and partially covered by the inrolled edge of the leaf. The leaf stalks are wiry, brittle, hairy, and very dark brown or purple. When the weather is dry the plants curl up into a mass of dry rusty leaves that are soon resurrected by the rain.

Identifying Characteristics

A fern with fronds up to 50 cm. long. These fronds are tripinnate, green to gray-tomentose above, and very densely woolly beneath with tangled shiny white to brownish matted trichomes. The ultimate pinnules are distinct, 1-2 mm long, and roundish-obovate. The margins of the pinnules are reflexed, forming a continuous and somewhat membranaceous indusium. The rhizomes are short and the stipes are densely wooly.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Since this fern is currently not known in New York, a single frond with sori should be collected to voucher its presence. Once a population is known though, only photopgraphs will be needed to verify its identification. These photos should include the top and underside of the leaf frong with close-up images showing the sori.

Similar Species

No other Cheilanthes species are present in New York, but it may be confused with a vegetative Woodsia species. The purple rachis with white hairs and no scales will differentiate it from Woodsia. To positively identify, all effort should be made to observe and photograph a frond with spores.

Best Time to See

Spores may be present on this fern from summer through fall. Surveys should occur during this spore producing period.

  • Vegetative
  • Fruiting

The time of year you would expect to find Woolly Lip Fern vegetative and fruiting in New York.

Woolly Lip Fern Images


Woolly Lip Fern
Myriopteris lanosa (Michx.) Grusz & Windham

  • Kingdom Plantae
    • Phylum Filicinophyta
      • Class Filicopsida (Ferns)
        • Order Filicales
          • Family Pteridaceae (Maidenhair-fern Family)

Additional Common Names

  • Hairy Lip-fern


  • Cheilanthes lanosa (Michx.) D.C. Eat.
  • Cheilanthes tomentosa Link [Misapplied to New York specimens.]
  • Cheilanthes vestita (Spreng.) Sw.
  • Nephrodium lanosum Michx.

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

Gleason, Henry A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.

Other References

Cobb, Boughton. 1984. A field guide to ferns and their related families. 281 pp.. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, New York. The Peterson Field Guide Series.

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1632 pp.

Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 1993. Flora of North America, North of Mexico. Volume 2. Pteridophytes and Gymnosperms. Oxford University Press, New York. 475 pp.

Holmgren, Noel. 1998. The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Mitchell, Richard S. and Gordon C. Tucker. 1997. Revised Checklist of New York State Plants. Contributions to a Flora of New York State. Checklist IV. Bulletin No. 490. New York State Museum. Albany, NY. 400 pp.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2010. Biotics database. New York Natural Heritage Program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 96 pp. plus xi.

Weldy, T. and D. Werier. 2010. New York flora atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research http://www.fccdr.usf.edu/. University of South Florida http://www.usf.edu/]. New York Flora Association http://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu/, Albany, New York


About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: December 22, 2004

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Myriopteris lanosa. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/woolly-lip-fern/. Accessed May 26, 2024.