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Dickie's Fern

Cystopteris dickieana

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Cystopteridaceae (Bladder Fern)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
35 centimetres tall
Gardens, rocky places.
Ferns have spores instead of flowers.
Black spores with whitish cases. Almost identical in appearance to Brittle Bladder Fern (Cystopteris fragilis). The only certain way to tell them both apart is that Dickie's Fern is without microscopic spines on the spores.
2 to 3-pinnate fronds. The stalks are shorter and broader than those of Brittle Bladder Fern. The leaflets are also more crowded.
Other Names:
Dickie's Bladder Fern.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Cystopteris dickieana, also known as Dickie's bladder fern, is a species of fern that is native to the mountains of China and Taiwan. It is a small to medium-sized fern that typically grows in rocky crevices, on cliffs, and on ledges in damp, shady environments.

The fronds of C. dickieana are lanceolate in shape, and typically reach 20-30 cm long. They are deeply lobed, with the lobes being lanceolate in shape as well. The stipe (the stem of the frond) is typically red-brown in color, and the rachis (the axis of the frond) is typically green. The sori (clusters of spore-producing structures) are located on the undersides of the fronds, and are protected by reflexed marginal flaps.

C. dickieana is considered to be a rare species in its natural habitat and is listed as endangered by IUCN, due to the destruction and degradation of its habitats by human activities like logging, mining and pollution.

However, it is becoming increasingly popular as an ornamental plant, due to its attractive foliage and hardy nature. It can be grown in rock gardens, hanging baskets, and as a terrarium plant, and in the same way as C. fragilis, it prefers to be in moist, shaded, or partially shaded areas, also tolerates well cold.

It should be handled with care as it is an endangered species, it is best to obtain plant material from reputable nursery and not collect from wild.


Dickie's Fern, or Cystopteris dickieana, is a small, delicate fern native to the mountains of western North America. Named after the Scottish botanist James Dickie, who collected the first known specimen in 1871, this fern is a popular choice among fern enthusiasts and hikers alike.

The plant's fronds are typically no more than 20 cm long, with a dark green color and triangular shape. Each frond is made up of numerous small leaflets, giving the fern a feathery, delicate appearance. Dickie's Fern is often found growing in moist, shaded areas, such as near streams or on north-facing slopes.

One of the most distinctive features of Dickie's Fern is the pattern of brown, spore-producing structures (sori) that appear on the undersides of the fronds. These sori are arranged in rows along the leaflets and are covered by a thin, translucent membrane called an indusium. When mature, the sori release spores that can be carried by the wind to other locations, allowing the fern to reproduce and spread.

Although Dickie's Fern is not particularly rare, it is still a protected species in some areas. In the United States, for example, the fern is listed as a species of concern in Oregon and is designated as a sensitive species in Montana. Habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activities, such as logging and development, can threaten the survival of Dickie's Fern populations.

Despite these threats, Dickie's Fern remains a popular plant among fern enthusiasts and hikers. The delicate, lacy fronds and distinctive spore patterns make it a favorite for gardeners and nature lovers, while its natural beauty and adaptability have helped it survive in the face of habitat destruction. If you happen to come across Dickie's Fern on your next hike, take a moment to appreciate this tiny but resilient plant and its important role in its mountain ecosystem.

In addition to its aesthetic appeal, Dickie's Fern also plays an important ecological role in its mountain habitat. The fern's delicate fronds help to filter pollutants and other contaminants from the air, making the air cleaner and healthier for both humans and other organisms. The plant also serves as a food source for a variety of herbivores, including deer and elk, which browse on the fronds.

As with many fern species, Dickie's Fern has also been used for medicinal purposes by various cultures. Some Native American tribes reportedly used the fern to treat a range of ailments, including digestive disorders and skin conditions. However, it is important to note that the use of any plant for medicinal purposes should always be done under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional.

For those interested in cultivating Dickie's Fern, it can be grown in a shady, moist environment, such as a woodland garden or shady corner of a yard. The fern prefers well-drained soil and can be propagated through spores or division. As with all plant species, it is important to obtain Dickie's Fern from a reputable source and to avoid harvesting wild specimens.

In addition to its ecological and aesthetic value, Dickie's Fern has also been the subject of scientific research due to its unique genetic makeup. The fern is a member of the Cystopteris genus, which is known for its highly diverse and complex genome. Recent studies have shown that Dickie's Fern and other Cystopteris species have undergone multiple rounds of genome duplication, resulting in highly complex and diverse genomes.

These findings have important implications for the study of plant evolution and the development of new plant-based technologies. The complex genetic makeup of Cystopteris species may provide insights into the mechanisms of gene duplication and diversification, which could have important applications in fields such as bioengineering and agriculture.

Despite the scientific interest in Dickie's Fern and its relatives, the ferns continue to face threats from habitat loss and fragmentation. Efforts to protect the species and its mountain habitats are ongoing, and include measures such as habitat restoration, land conservation, and public education and outreach.

In conclusion, Dickie's Fern is a small but fascinating plant with important ecological, aesthetic, and scientific value. Its delicate fronds and distinctive spore patterns make it a favorite of hikers and gardeners, while its complex genetic makeup provides insights into the mechanisms of plant evolution and diversification. By working to protect and conserve Dickie's Fern and its mountain habitats, we can help ensure that this unique and important plant continues to thrive for generations to come.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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